Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was tragically shot down by two successive surface-to-air missiles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) on January 8, 2020. All 176 passengers and crew were killed. These passengers included citizens of Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom. Of the 167 passengers, 138 were travelling to Canada via Ukraine, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents. The majority of the passengers were children, university students, distinguished academics, and eminent professionals who had travelled during Christmas break. This atrocious attack robbed many young souls of their hopes and dreams, left countless families deeply scarred, and shook the conscience of the world.
The downing of Flight PS752 occurred on January 8, at approximately 06:19 local time, amid extraordinary tensions between Iran and the US. Earlier that day, Iran launched missiles at US military bases in Iraq, in retaliation to the killing of the IRGC Major General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone on January 3, 2020. Despite anticipating a response by the US, Iranian officials did not close Iran’s airspace. Some have speculated that Iran was hoping to create a “human shield” against an American attack by leaving its airspace open for civilian travel.
Iran has not answered questions regarding why its airspace was allowed to remain open, why it ultimately attacked flight PS752, and who gave those orders. Instead, the Iranian government has claimed that “human error” was to blame, but this claim has since been widely rejected. We, the families of victims, want a full investigation into all circumstances and decision-making related to the attack on flight PS752 and the murder of its passengers and crew. We will not rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
During the first three days following the downing, Iranian authorities hid the cause of the crash, blaming it on mechanical issues. However, new information and evidence soon surfaced revealing that PS752 was struck by missile(s). The evidence included a number of videos from locals showing the moment the missiles were fired, President Trump’s statement on January 9 rejecting the claims of mechanical issues, and preliminary reports by Ukrainian investigators exposing traces of shrapnel marks on the wreckage. In the face of mounting evidence, Prime Minister Trudeau stated on January 9 that flight PS752 was likely brought down by an Iranian missile.
Iran adopted an initial strategy of denial and deceit. Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry was among the first to assert these lies, stating mechanical problems as the cause of the crash. The spokesperson of this ministry strongly rejected the allegations of a missile attack, explaining that if that was the case, the aircraft would have exploded midair. The minister himself also rejected the allegations and reaffirmed mechanical issues as the cause of the crash. Ali Abedzadeh, head of the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran stressed that a missile strike cannot be the truth and argued that this allegation was invented by the U.S. to save the already troubled Boeing from a further blow.
After Prime Minister Trudeau’s remarks on January 9, the Iranian government’s spokesperson persistently dismissed the attack, calling it a “great lie” and “psychological warfare” against Iran. Hesamodin Ashena, advisor to President Rouhani, in a threatening tweet went as far as warning journalists against participating in the psychological warfare of the enemies of Iran. Ali Abedzadeh restated his previous claims “with certainty”, and the ambassador of Iran to the UK also emphasized that they are confident “there has been no missile launched in that area at that time.” Farhad Parvaresh, Tehran’s representative at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), told the National Post that a missile strike is “simply not possible”, adding that “if the aircraft had been hit with a missile, it would explode in the air.”
The news outlets of the government of Iran also systematically promoted the lies of the Iranian authorities. National television channels broadcast “experts” opining that a missile strike was impossible. One asserted that when an aircraft wants to take off from a domestic airport, it must get the permission of the air defense units three times, and that all of those steps were properly carried for Flight PS752. Another explained the coverage of IRGC radar, which encompasses the airspace of Tehran’s IKA airport. He asserted that it is impossible that the IRGC shot down the aircraft since the air defense systems track all airplanes from the moment of take-off. These are just a few examples of misinformation propagated by Iran in the days following the attack on flight PS752.
On January 11, Iranian officials finally admitted that IRGC missiles downed Flight PS752. Iran called the attack “an accident” and attributed it to “human error.” Iran has not however provided access to the individuals involved in the decision to shoot down flight PS752 or provided any detailed explanation of these events.
Obfuscation and Theft
In the initial hours following the attack, Iran started to clear the crash site and bulldoze the evidence, despite being required by international law to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the crash and its causes. Many photos and videos showing the bulldozers clearing the crash site were published within a day, but Iranian officials denied this fact too, with Iran’s ambassador to the UK rejecting the video footage as “absurd.”
Anti-riot police were also present at the crash site within a few hours to control arriving families. According to the families of victims, this team was well prepared with a plan to hold the families at the airport and contain them using psychological techniques.
The families received little or none of the personal belongings of their loved ones. Credit cards, ID cards, Iranian passports, and even boarding passes of most of the passengers were returned intact, indicating that they were removed from wallets or pouches. Nonetheless, the wallets themselves were never returned, cash was taken, and rarely any Canadian or foreign passport was returned. When bodies were returned to family members, they were missing jewellery. Almost all jewellery was stolen – wedding and engagement rings, lockets, and other cherished gifts and sentimental items. In many cases, valuable metals or stones were removed, and the worthless mangled remainder returned, many months later.
The crash site was cleared within a few days, with no full or transparent investigation. Although Iran initially allowed the representatives of the other involved countries to carry out investigations, it quickly restricted their access. In one instance, after the Ukrainian team published an audio recording of the conversation of a pilot of another flight with the air traffic control unit as he witnessed the missile attack, the Iranian government threatened that the access of the Ukrainian team to other the data would be restricted.
For seven months, Iran refused to share the flight recorders (known as “black boxes”) with other countries. The black boxes were recovered the day after the crash, when Iran reported that their memory appears intact. On February 19, Iran’s story changed, claiming that the black boxes were damaged and some parts of their memory may have been lost. For months, Iran insisted that it will review the flight recorders in Iran, despite lacking the capabilities to read the flight recorders in the country. This delay was a complete disregard to ICAO regulations that call for immediate read-out of the recorders.
On March 14, 2020, Iran’s representative at the ICAO promised that the flight recorders would be sent to Ukraine or a third-party country for a readout within fourteen days. Unsurprisingly, Iran did not deliver the black boxes and did not respond to other countries’ subsequent requests to honour its promise. On July 20, after much wrangling and hampering, Iran finally delivered the black boxes to France for the read-out and analysis. Iran has since restricted the transparent publication of the contents of the black boxes, but they reported that they stopped recording 19 seconds after the first missile strike.
The families of victims in Iran are being oppressed and fear for their safety. Iran has declared the victims of the PS752 attack “martyrs” who died for Iran, rather than victims killed by Iran. The IRGC and government officials repeatedly visited families in their homes, without warning, to apply pressure. These officials arrived with journalists and cameras to advance their propaganda. The repeated visits from the IRGC and the government – the culprits of the crime – have inflicted great pain and fear among grieving families. Families are even forced to thank the attackers for their service, rather than allowed to grieve in peace.
The IRGC has also closely monitored funeral and memorial ceremonies for the victims. Often, they have assumed control of ceremonies and pushed away grieving families. Many of the burials have been done under heavy presence of the IRGC soldiers in order to contain the ceremonies and ensure that they do not turn into anti-regime protests. The IRGC staff shamelessly pose as the mourners of the losses and ignore the families who are the real mourners.
For those who chose to repatriate their loved ones to other countries, the Iranian regime created obstacles, adding to their grief. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, and insists that for dual citizens it holds all rights, denying any right claimed by other countries as “secondary” citizenship. All Iranian families wanting to repatriate their loved ones were forced to sign a new form created for PS752 victims, a request to send an “Iranian national” to “foreign countries”. Families were forced to declare that foreign citizens were solely citizens of Iran in order to have remains repatriated abroad.
Individuals who spoke out were threatened and punished. Some were physically assaulted and had to escape the country. Some were threatened with sexual violence of themselves or their family members. Where individuals were outside Iran, officials have attempted to intimidate those individuals into a “deal” to stay silent. Obviously, the pain of the families losing their loved ones unexpectedly in such an atrocious attack is unimaginable. These act only to the pain and agony of grieving families, instead of leaving them at peace.
The regime did not stop at harassing the families. Many of the people of Iran who protested this heinous crime within the first few days have been arrested. Most of those arrested are prominent students at elite universities in Iran whose conscience did not allow them to remain silent and let this violation to go unnoticed. Anti-riot police have treated them mercilessly, and they are now being sentenced to months and years in prison.
The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims was created by the families of victims and registered as a not-for-profit corporation in Canada. Our members represent the majority of the victims of Flight PS752 from all over the world, and our goal is to unite the voices of all affected families. One of the central missions of our Association is to seek justice and investigate the truth of the events leading to the attack on Flight PS752. This is important for two reasons. First, the only way to bring any closure to the families of victims is by disclosing the truth and punishing the perpetrators. Second, this process is crucial in reducing the chances of similar events from occurring in future by forcing the parties at fault to alter their dangerous behaviour.
Despite our short history as an Association, we have come a long way in advocating for our rights and seeking justice. Through consultations with top lawyers in the field of international law and human rights, we are also working with all interested governments to advance these goals. We are consolidating information from families and collecting all relevant facts from external sources. We call on all individuals with relevant information to please come forward and help us in our mission.
Several lawsuits against the Iranian regime have also been launched by others in Canada’s courts. In addition, several lawsuits have been commenced against Ukraine International Airline for their part in allowing the flight to take off despite the warnings and tensions of that morning. The Association is not currently affiliated with any of those lawsuits, though we are monitoring their progress.
Lastly, we would be honoured to receive your warm and kind support throughout our journey to hold Iran responsible for its attack on flight PS752, and are grateful for the support that you have shown so far. Our first petition, calling for “Justice for Flight 752 Victims” has collected more than 140,000 signatures as of May 2020. Our second petition titled “Iran’s Airspace is Not Safe”, which we launched very recently, has gathered more than 40,000 signatures and counting as of this time as well. We sincerely appreciate your compassion and support, and we look forward to a day that we bring to justice those who ordered this attack, those who planned it, and those who were otherwise responsible for all 176 innocent lives lost.