Iranians still angry two years after Flight 752 was shot down

Victims of the tragedy in Iran are demanding justice from the government

A picture is seen next to candles lit by people and families of the victims of the crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane, flight PS 752, in Tehran, Iran January 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

On Saturday, January 8, Iranians around the world will honour those who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, marking two years since the aircraft was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Vigils are being held in Iran and abroad to honour the victims of that flight.

A poster advertising vigils being held in Iran and abroad with Iranians around the world honouring the victims of Flight 752.

Iranian authorities took three days to admit that the flight was shot down by IRGC forces, eventually blaming it on human error. It took two years for a court in Canada to award compensation for the victims.

About 176 passengers, 130 of Iranian nationality, died that night when the flight was shot down just minutes after take-off on the outskirts of Tehran. Iran’s former president Hassan Rouhani at the time called the tragedy a “disastrous mistake”.

Iran's foreign minister at the time apologised to the Iranian people and both men tried to distance themselves from the tragedy, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the IRGC.

Iran said operators who fired the missiles at the passenger aircraft mistook the passenger jet for a hostile aircraft had been on high alert amid escalating tensions with the US after its killing of Gen Qassem Suleimani.

What began as a vigil outside Amirkabir University in Tehran, turned into days of protests and clashes with police, the sadness of the nation quickly turning to anger. Protesters called the government shameless and deceptive and they called for legal action to be taken against those who shot down the plane.

On Iran's state-controlled media channel Irna, anchors expressed frustration with how the government handled the tragedy. One said: "They should have announced it sooner. No planes should have been able to take off that day.”

The editor-in-chief of the Tasnim news agency took to Twitter to criticise the government. Kian Abdollahi wrote: "The catastrophic way the information was spread to people is just as bad as the catastrophe itself, The officials who reported wrongly to the media are responsible. They make us all ashamed.”

While two years have passed, for many Iranians those dark days after Flight 752 was shot down mark a turning point in how they view their government. Cyrus Hamedani, who joined the vigils in Tehran in 2020, told The National while he was never a supporter of the government one could always find something that perhaps showed humanity, despite the bloody protest crackdowns and jailing of dissidents and reporters.

For him, that changed in 2020. "They didn't care. They didn't care what they had done and they lied,” he said.

Mr Hamedani is not alone in his feelings. One Tehran resident who spoke to The National said he does not believe that it was a mistake or human error. "They had ample time to hold the flight until safety concerns were cleared and they didn't," he said. "That's not a mistake, that is a calculated decision.”

(FILES) In this file photo rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. Canada said it was demanding answers from Iran over the mistaken downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet after Tehran's "limited" initial report failed to explain why it fired missiles at the plane. Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran's main airport on January 8. Iran admitted days later that its forces had accidentally shot down the Kiev-bound Boeing 737-800, killing all 176 people on board, including 55 Canadians.The Canadian government said August 23, 2020 it had received a copy of the Iranian report on the cockpit voice recorders.
 / AFP / -

For some such as Leily, 28, a student, the steps the Iranian government took after admitting the mistake were not enough. Her anger has not dulled with time.

“They barely held anyone accountable because they can't," she said. "The accountability comes from the top and no one at the top will be held responsible. They killed young people and then have the nerve to call them martyrs of the revolution.”

Iran's government at the end of 2020 offered the victims of the plane crash $150,000 in compensation but gave no timeline as to when it would pay the victims and has not yet made it clear if they have paid out any money to the families.

Now, a year after that offer, a Canadian court has ordered Iran to pay out $80 million dollars to the families of just six of the victims of the incident crash. Other families of the victims have said they are not looking for monetary compensation but for justice.

Updated: January 7th 2022, 10:17 AM