Families of victims outraged by Iran’s 'kangaroo court' for Flight PS752

Plane was shot down on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 onboard

A placard bearing the face of a victim of Flight PS752 is carried in Toronto. The Canadian Press via AP
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As the trial of the 10 people accused of downing Ukraine Airlines Flight PS752 continues in Iran, the family members of the victims are being forced to endure more heartache and frustration.

The trial began last week behind closed doors in a military court. The families do not even know who the 10 people on trial are, but they are certain they are not the ones ultimately responsible for what happened to their loved ones.

“It's like a kangaroo court,” Armin Morattab, who lives outside of Montreal, Canada, told The National.

Mr Morattab lost his twin brother, Arvin, on January 8, 2020, when two missiles fired by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) struck down Flight PS752 over Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

The downing of the flight occurred amid heightened tension between Iran and the US in the days after the assassination of top Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani.

At first, Iran denied any involvement in the downing of the flight but eventually admitted it had been a “mistake”.

Now, nearly two years later, the country has put 10 people on trial for their involvement in the downing of the flight.

Iranian state media, which released photos from inside the courtroom, said that the 10 suspects come from “various ranks”.

The international community has mostly sided with the families.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Tehran was invited to attend the trial but chose not to, as he said Iran is failing “with its obligations under international law and to provide requested information to the Ukrainian authorities".

A look inside the closed-door proceedings of the Iranian military courtroom for the 2020 downing of a Ukrainian plane that killed 176 people. AP

Canada, meanwhile, which lost 55 citizens and 30 permanent residents on the flight, was not invited to send representatives to the court.

Many of the families believe that the highest-ranking members of the IRGC are the ones who should stand trial, but say that Iranian officials told them that will not happen.

More than 130 families of the victims have created an association to fight for justice, spending the past 22 months pleading with the international community to bring Iran to task for the downing of the flight.

Last month, they released their own 217-page report on the incident.

“It is the belief of the association that high-ranking officials of Iran are responsible for the downing of Flight PS752 and not just a handful of low-ranking … members, as per the claims of the government of Iran,” the families said in the report.

Compiled by the association’s fact-finding committee, members relied on assistance from aviation and legal experts to create the report.

Their discoveries pose a sharp contrast to Iran’s disclosures on the incident, with the downing blamed on an air defence unit mistaking the flight as a threat because of a misalignment of the missile launcher’s radar.

Many Canadian families feel abandoned by the international community, especially their own government. The association went so far as to ask the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to open a criminal investigation into Flight PS752, but their request was rejected.

“We have to defend Canada,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, a spokesman for the association of families, as he called on the government to devote more attention to the issue.

“This is the second-worst terrorist attack against Canadians in the history of Canada.”

Mr Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter on the flight, has faced harassment and intimidation over his efforts to keep the incident in the news.

The RCMP would not comment on why they chose not to pursue a criminal investigation but told The National they continue "to work collaboratively with Ukraine to collect and preserve evidence relevant to their investigation, and continue to provide assistance and expertise to Ukrainian officials, including conducting investigative interviews and collecting evidence that Ukraine has requested we gather in Canada."

Meanwhile, Ottawa has said the right things over the months, but has done little to bring the families any sort of justice.

On Wednesday, Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly met her Ukrainian counterpart on the sidelines of the Nato meeting of foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia.

A statement released by Ms Joly’s office said the two discussed Flight PS752.

“The ministers confirmed their commitment to holding Iran to account for the downing of Flight PS752 and expressed their solidarity with the families of the victims,” the statement said.

But that is not enough for the families who have been waiting and pleading with their government for action.

“Don't wait for the criminals to do the investigation,” said Mr Morattab. “You have to do something, whatever it takes — but they don't listen.”

Updated: December 03, 2021, 7:52 PM