Middle East

Iranian commander sentenced to 13 years for shooting down Ukrainian passenger plane

By Jessie Yeung and Jonny Hallam, CNN

A court in Tehran convicted as many as 10 Iranian military personnel on Sunday for their involvement in the shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 in 2020, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr News.

But the sentence was dismissed as a “sham ruling” by victims’ families who say Iranian authorities have failed to prosecute those ultimately responsible for the disaster.

The main defendant in the trial was the unnamed commander of the Tor M1 surface-to-air missile defense system that shot down the plane, killing all 176 people on board. The commander was sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to Mehr.

The Boeing 737 flight departed from Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran on January 8, 2020, and was headed to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv when it was hit by anti-aircraft missiles shortly after takeoff.

Days after the downing, Iranian authorities admitted that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force shot the plane down by mistake after it was misidentified as a cruise missile by an air defense operator.

In the Tehran court’s final verdict on Sunday, it said the passenger plane was shot down by “human error.” The commander fired missiles at the civilian aircraft twice, “contrary to the order of the command post and other instructions,” the court said, according to Mehr.

The other defendants found guilty were personnel of the air defense post, Mehr reported.

The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, an international group seeking justice for those killed, released a statement on Sunday saying the victims’ families “never recognized the Islamic Regime’s court as a legitimate tribunal.”

It claimed the tribunal had failed to prosecute the “main perpetrators” of the incident, instead prosecuting “ten low-ranking officers with total obscurity of their backgrounds and identities.”

The association condemned the trial as a “sham ruling,” after court sessions were held in private, with victims’ families not present for hearings. More than 70 complainants from the families of victims had withdrawn their complaints before the sentencing was handed down and rejected the competence of the court, it said.

The group considers the case still open, and is demanding the dispute be considered by the International Court of Justice.

The passenger jet downing happened at a time of heightened tensions with the United States, hours after Iran launched ballistic missile strikes on a US base in Iraq – an act of retaliation for the US drone killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

At the time thousands of anti-government protesters in Tehran took to the streets to denounce the crash, with some calling for the removal of Iran’s supreme leader and for the prosecution of those responsible.

Of those killed in the crash, 138 were traveling to Canada, according to the CBC. Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons.

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