Iran's President Wants Special Court To Probe Ukrainian Plane Downing
By RFE/RL's Radio Farda January 14, 2020
Iranian President Hassan Rohani, in the face of intense protests, has called for a special court to be set up to investigate the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner by the country's air defenses that killed all 176 people on board.
All those responsible for the "unforgivable error" must be "punished," Rohani said in a televised speech on January 14, amid continued outrage in Iran over the downing of the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737-800.
Daily protests have been held in Iranian cities since January 11, after the country's military said UIA Flight PS752 was shot down "unintentionally" by an antiaircraft missile shortly after it took off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport three days earlier. Most of those killed in the disaster were Iranian and Canadian nationals.
The tragedy occurred with Iran's air-defense forces on high alert following an Iranian ballistic-missile attack a few hours earlier against U.S. forces in Iraq.
"The judiciary should form a special court with a ranking judge and dozens of experts," Rohani said in his speech, adding that the Iranian armed forces' admission in the incident was "a good first step."
"For our people it is very important in this incident that whoever was at fault or negligent at any level" faces justice, he said.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that "extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals have been arrested" for their role in the crash.
He did not give further details.
Protests Continue, Gunfire Reported
Separately, Esmaili said that around 30 people had been arrested for taking part in "illegal gatherings" over three days, as thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tehran and several other cities to vent their anger with the clerical establishment over the incident.
The protests continued for a fourth day on January 14, with videos posted on social media showing demonstrators gathered at two universities in the capital -- the Shahid Beheshti University and University of Tehran.
Similar student rallies were held the previous day in Tehran and Isfahan.
Meanwhile, authorities in Tehran denied using live ammunition on demonstrators, after videos posted online purported to show police and security forces opening fire and using tear gas to disperse protesters near Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square on the night of January 12.
Reuters said videos showed blood on the ground and images of people who appeared to be security personnel in the vicinity of protests carrying rifles.
Other posts showed police in riot gear hitting protesters with batons on the street, the agency reported.
The U.S. State Department has warned Iranian authorities that Washington was not going to "tolerate" violence against the protesters.
"We want the regime to know that the United States is watching, that the world is watching, and that we are going to shine a very, very big light on any abuse by the regime to their own people," spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told RFE/RL on January 13.
The Ukrainian airliner was carrying 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 10 Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons.
Iran has invited Canada and Ukraine to take part in the investigation into the plane disaster.
Aviation officials from Iran, Ukraine, and Canada held a meeting in Tehran on January 14 over the investigation of the crash, Iranian state TV reported in an online post. No additional details were provided.
Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was glad Tehran had identified the downing of the plane as an "appalling mistake" and added that it was important the bodies of the British victims are now repatriated.
Asked whether Iran should face consequences, Johnson told the BBC, "They're clearly guilty of an appalling error, I don't think we are currently envisaging any further escalation of the tensions."
Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said on January 11 that his unit accepted "full responsibility" for the tragedy.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his "deep sympathy" to the families of the 176 victims on January 12 and called on the armed forces to "pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident."
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and BBC
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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