April 20, 2020 | Policy Brief

Iran Seeks to Block Investigation of January’s Ukrainian Airliner Crash

April 20, 2020 | Policy Brief

Iran Seeks to Block Investigation of January’s Ukrainian Airliner Crash

Radio Farda reported on Tuesday that Tehran sent Ukraine a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) that, if signed, would protect the Iranian government from judicial action for the downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in January. The move indicates that Tehran continues its effort to deflect responsibility for the deaths of the 176 passengers onboard.

According to the MOU, in exchange for Iran compensating victims and releasing the black box – the flight data recorder and voice recorder in the cockpit of the plane – Kiev would recognize that mere “human error” led to the airliner’s downing. The MOU would thereby absolve the Iranian government of any wrongdoing.

This MOU is just the latest in a series of attempts to prevent families of the victims and the international community from seeking justice.

After the crash, Iran’s deflection campaign began with Iran’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, who led a pseudo-investigation into the incident. As Canada’s former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said in January 2020, Raisi’s past role in the Iranian regime’s mass executions of 1988 should have disqualified him from leading this internal investigation. This so-called investigation resulted in no arrests and ignored recordings demonstrating the regime’s and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ negligence.

Following this sham investigation, Tehran spread conspiracy theories to deflect blame for its offense. On April 5, Hassan Norouzi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s Legal and Judicial Commission, announced, “The Iranian military did well by downing the passenger plane,” because the plane “was in Israel the week before the incident and appeared to have been tampered with and manipulated there.” He also alleged that the Ukrainian airliner “was no longer under the control of the tower and appeared to have come under America’s control.”

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Vadum Prystaiko criticized these narratives, tweeting, “We expect an immediate explanation from Iran on this statement. It shows full disrespect for human lives.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that discussions of Tehran’s role is just “politicization of this tragedy.”

To shore up its propaganda campaign, the regime has also harassed, tortured, and sexually assaulted the victims’ family members to dissuade them from seeking legal action against the regime. A report from Zeytoun, a foreign-based Persian website, revealed that the regime pressured victims’ families to appear on state television and reiterate their support for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran has also targeted victims’ family members by sending threatening messages from fake Facebook accounts. Iranian government officials have called some of these family members, berating them for criticizing the regime online.

Coupled with these public relations tactics is an ongoing effort by the regime to preclude an independent investigation into the incident by withholding the airliner’s black box. On March 29, Mohammad Eslami, the Iranian minister of roads and transport, claimed that the regime has ceased decoding the black box due to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, Farhad Paravaresh, the Islamic Republic’s representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, had promised to give the black box to Ukraine days before, by March 25. Today, more than 100 days after the crash, the black box recordings remain exclusively with the Islamic Republic.

Ukraine should reject Iran’s MOU so that the international community may properly investigate the incident and hold Tehran accountable.

Talia Katz is a government relations analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Talia and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Talia on Twitter @TaliaGKatz. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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