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Iranian military court begins hearings into downing of Ukrainian airliner

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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

An Iranian military court began a hearing over the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020 that killed 176 people, the judiciary’s Mizan Online agency said.

The report said 10 military personnel of various ranks were present at the November 21 hearing in Tehran, as well as the families of victims and lawyers for both sides.

The report did not identify the suspects but said their names were read out loud in the court.

The court heard statements by lawyers of the defendants and the victims’ families. The next hearing will be announced later.

The hearing was the first since Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people aboard.

Most of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, including dual nationals. Citizens or residents of Afghanistan, Britain, Ukraine, and Sweden also died.

Days after official denials, Iran admitted that a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had inadvertently shot down the plane when it fired two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States.

Iran’s air defenses were on high alert at the time because the country had just fired ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad five days earlier.

Tehran, which has come under international criticism for misleading statements and for hampering independent inquiries, has said it mistook the aircraft for a U.S. missile.

A final report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization in March concluded that an operator “misidentified” the plane and fired the missiles without authorization from a commander.

But an official Canadian report into the tragedy published in June found Iranian civilian and military authorities “fully responsible” for downing the plane, even though it found no evidence Iranian officials “ordered the shoot-down or that it was premeditated.”

The probe concluded that an air-defense unit operator “likely acted on his own in making the decision to launch the missiles,” but it added that the incident would not have occurred if not for the “incompetence, recklessness, and wanton disregard for human life” of Iranian officials.

According to the report, Iranian antiaircraft missiles were on high alert, yet the authorities did not close the airspace or notify airlines at the time.

The report also acknowledged a lack of access to the evidence, crash site, and witnesses.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June following the release of the report that senior Iranian officials made decisions that led to the tragedy and the world “must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats.”

Iranian authorities allowed the crash site to be bulldozed in the immediate days after the incident. They have also provided little public information about the 10 people indicted for their role in the incident.

In May, Human Rights Watch accused Iranian security agencies of harassing and abusing families of the victims of the crash in order to “squash any hope for justice.”

The Iranian government in December 2020 allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.

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