Protesters across North America gathered on Sunday to mark the third anniversary of Iran’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752) and to demand justice for the victims and their families.
The Boeing 737 plane bound for Kyiv crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Iranian authorities have admitted that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force shot down the plane by mistake after it was mistakenly identified as a cruise missile by an air defense operator.
Of those killed, 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 British.
Protesters gathered in Washington, DC on Sunday; Portland, Oregon; San Diego, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and other cities in the United States. They also rallied in Canadian cities including Toronto, Kingston, Halifax and Regina. Globally, protests have taken place in Australia, Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, Germany and other countries.
The protests were organized by the Association of Families of the Victims of Flight PS752, an international group demanding justice for those killed. “We are determined to uncover the truth and find out why a commercial flight was shot down by IRGC missiles. We will resolutely seek justice until the culprits, perpetrators and commanders of this atrocious crime are identified and brought to justice before an impartial and independent tribunal,” the association states on its website.
On January 10, 2020, then Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that an internal investigation had concluded that the accident was due to “human error” after missiles were fired at the PS752. “Investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake,” he said.
At a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, current President Ebrahim Raisi commemorated those who died on board flight PS752 and said the investigation into the tragedy was ongoing, according to the Hamshahri daily.
However, the families of the victims say they do not believe Iran will deliver justice on its own.
In December, a coalition of four countries – Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom – called on Iran to submit to binding arbitration in the dispute over the downing of flight PS752. The coalition, called the International Coordination and Intervention Group, wants “a full, transparent and credible explanation of the attack”.
Hamed Esmaeilion, a Toronto-based dentist who led the victims’ association after losing his wife and daughter who were on board PS752, says he hopes the coalition will succeed. “The families of victims are usually not at the forefront of decision-making and that’s a big deal,” he told CNN. Esmaeilion said only governments can hold Iran accountable for its actions.
Iran has six months from the filing of the case to respond to the request for arbitration, according to a report by Global Affairs Canada which describes the international legal protocol in the matter. “At the end of these six months, which cannot be extended, the four governments can officially refer the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” Esmaeilion said in a video posted on the Association of Association’s Instagram page. families of flight PS752.
Esmaeilion recently teamed up with Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Babak Payami to chronicle his quest for justice in the film “752 Is Not A Number”. It provides a “window into the monument of injustice and inhumanity that exists in Iran under Islamic Republic rule,” Payami told CNN.
Esmaeilion says he hopes Sunday’s protests will advance the fight for justice.
Addressing a group of protesters gathered at the grave of his wife and daughter, Esmaeilion said: “This file will be registered in The Hague, this crime will be looked into by members of The Hague and we will remain hopeful that this tribunal will be held in a free Iran.We will fight for this day, and we will not forget or forgive.