April 7, 2021 By Maan Alhmidi and Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Ten officials have been indicted in Iran over the 2020 military shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 people, but the move did nothing to quell Canadian demands for accountability Tuesday.
More than 100 of the 176 victims — at least one of whom was pregnant — had ties to Canada, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
The announcement comes after Iran faced withering international criticism last month for releasing a final report into the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 that blamed human error, but named no one responsible for the incident.
Tehran military prosecutor Gholamabbas Torki similarly avoided naming those responsible when he announced the indictments Tuesday while handing over his office to Nasser Seraj. The semiofficial ISNA news agency and the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency both reported his remarks.
“The indictment of the case of the Ukrainian plane was also issued and a serious and accurate investigation was carried out and indictments were issued for 10 people who were at fault,” Mizan quoted Torki as saying, without elaborating.
Kourosh Doustshenas, whose partner Forough Khadem was one of victims, said the families of the dead can’t trust the Iranian justice system because the Tehran military prosecutor didn’t disclose the names of those charged, nor the alleged offences.
“We don’t accept their assertion of what they’re saying, and we don’t believe in what they’re saying,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Doustshenas said the Iranian government has been “making a show” to avoid accountability since it published the “so-called final investigation report” a few weeks ago that was “full of lies and misrepresentations.”
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government remains “tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability that Iran continues to have on this issue.”
Trudeau said during a news briefing Tuesday that Canada would work with the international community to reform aviation standards and to ensure the families of victims “get closure, get compensation and mostly get justice from Iran.”
Doustshenas said the Canadian government has not pressed Iran hard enough to achieve accountability.
“(The Canadian government keeps) saying we want transparency and accountability, but they don’t say how they will achieve it, and what is the mechanism for it,” he said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said there should be more pressure on Iran for a full inquiry and examination of events.
“The regime should be held to account for the liability of the lives lost,” O’Toole told a news conference.
Following three days of denial in January 2020 in the face of mounting evidence, Iran finally acknowledged that its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard mistakenly downed the Ukrainian jetliner with two surface-to-air missiles. In preliminary reports on the disaster last year, Iranian authorities blamed an air-defence operator who they said mistook the Boeing 737-800 for an American cruise missile.
Last month, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said Iranian officials failed to provide evidence that Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by mistake, leaving key questions unanswered as Iran’s military effectively investigated itself.
The regime’s civil aviation body released a final report that blamed “human error” for two surface-to-air missiles fired at the jetliner minutes after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8 last year.
The Canadian government rejected the report outright, describing it as “incomplete” and devoid of “hard facts or evidence.”
Many on the flight had planned to connect in Kyiv, Ukraine, to fly on to Canada.
The shootdown happened the same day Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general. While Guard officials publicly apologized for the incident, the hesitancy of Iran to elaborate on what happened shows the power the force wields.
Following the release of Iran’s final investigative report, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba lambasted the findings as a “cynical attempt to hide the true causes of the downing of our passenger aircraft.” He accused Iran of conducting a “biased” probe into the disaster that resulted in “deceptive” conclusions.
Canada’s foreign and transport ministers similarly criticized the report, saying that it “has no hard facts or evidence” and “makes no attempt to answer critical questions about what truly happened.”
The announcement of charges came just hours before Iran and the five world powers remaining in its atomic accord meet in Vienna, where the U.S. is due to start indirect talks with Tehran.
With files from The Associated Press