On January 8, 2020, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot two Two surface-to-air missiles at the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 departing Tehran to Kiev, to land in the final destination, Toronto. IRGC killed all 176 passengers on board — 146 were Iranians, 61 were Canadians (most of whom were dual nationals or permanent residents of Canada), 11 were Ukrainians, and the rest were citizens of Sweden, Britain, and Afghanistan. Two years after the downing Flight PS752, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to resist independent investigations and a transparent due process. On the eve of the second anniversary of the downing of the Ukrainian plane, Zamaneh Media interviewed Hamed Esmaeilion, Spokesperson of the Association of Families of PS752 Victims. He lost his daughter Riera and his wife Parisa Eghbalian and along with the rest of the families of the victims of the downing Flight PS752 is fighting for justice for his loved ones.
▪ Zamaneh – We are nearing January 8th and the second anniversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) downing Flight PS752. You and the families who lost their loved ones on this day have started a campaign for justice; “Dādkhāhi” is the word in Persian that you use. What does this word mean to you?
Hamed Esmaeilion – For the families of 176 victims whose lives were taken on flight PS752, there will never be true justice. Nothing will bring our loved ones back to us. What we are fighting for is to reveal the truth; who were the real perpetrators of this heinous crime, what happened, and full accountability towards those behind this inhumane act of mass murder. We face a hard and arduous journey towards justice that cannot be limited to a mere apology or financial compensation. For us, true justice is in the journey, a journey without a destination.
▪ Your mourning for Reera, your daughter and Parisa Eghbalian, your wife, has been a work of writing in so many ways. In the horrific moment that you lost them on the morning of the 8th of January, you wrote on social media that your loved ones were on the plane. Your mourning in itself became a force of production. So far you have created hundreds of pieces of writing on social media as a literary writer, you have started an association along with other families, you are now publishing a podcast, a book, an independent investigative report and multiple campaigns and protests to keep the memory of your loved one alive. Tell us about these works of mourning. How have they helped you and other families? How have they helped your goal of dākhāhi?
Since that doomed day of January 8, 2020, we united to form the Association of the Families of Flight PS752 Victims. Our core mission is first and foremost to keep the memories of our loved ones alive, to fight for justice and accountability and to support the families in their unimaginable grief. All of us have worked together towards this mission. Supporting the surviving family members included internal meetings and therapy sessions, some of which led to memorializing our grief and struggle with a closure that is unattainable under the circumstances we face. This internal process was not enough and we needed to reach out to the community at large and share our struggles; struggle to find the truth, struggle to find closure and ultimately to share our fight for justice with the world. Memorializing our process by writing, documenting the crime and its aftermath, and sharing our grief not only helped us who paid the highest price in this crime but also helped to engage the community at large with our cause. I played my part to contribute to this process.
▪ The International Coordination and Response Group representing Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, have tried to press the IRI for accountability and justice and for “reparations.” You wrote a tweet about the word “reparations” and its mistranslation for the Persian audience. Why is this word and its translation important? Do you think there should be some form of reparation and how do you ideally imagine it to be?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a 43-year history of crimes against humanity. This history leaves no doubt as to the nature of this ideological tyranny that has victimized not only the Iranian people but the peoples of the region. After three days of lies and deceit to cover up their crime, The Iranian regime was forced by the international community and citizens around the world to admit to the crime that they committed. Meanwhile, they used their propaganda and security apparatus and activated their operatives around the world to confuse and bewilder the public. Within hours after the crash, they bulldozed the crash site and held the key evidence, the black boxes, hostage for over seven months and published shambolic reports that led to more questions than answers.
The families refused to reduce this crime to mere compensation or empty apologies. We were steadfast in our pursuit of justice and believe that there will be no justice without a fair, impartial and independent investigation that reveals the truth, holds the real perpetrators accountable and ensures that no other lives will fall victim to the ambitions of this regime. Only then, can there be any meaningful process of reparations for the surviving families of the victims. We will never allow reparations to be diminished to compensation or to become a destination without due process.
▪ The International Coordination and Response Group has given Iran a January 5th, 2022 deadline to start negotiations. IRI has so far not shown any signs of following through on its international legal obligations for the downing of Flight PS752. What are your thoughts on the actions taken by the Coordination and Response Group? Do you think they could have done more?
Those of us who grew up in Iran, we have borne the brunt of the evil nature of the Islamic Republic. We were clear from the outset that the Iranian regime will never comply with international law. Furthermore, the International regulations themselves fall short of dealing with this unprecedented and unimaginable crime. ICAO rules have left the responsibility of investigating this crime to the very government that has committed the crime. With this inherent contradiction in the regulations, and without the international community’s resolve to value human life and commitment to justice, we can never expect the perpetrators of the crime to be accountable and reveal the truth.
Our demands are simple; the downing of flight PS752 must be investigated by an impartial process under international guidelines and the Iranian regime must be compelled to comply with the process that shall reveal the truth transparently and hold the real perpetrators of the crime accountable. Justice is not negotiable and diplomacy has its limits where it comes to criminal behaviour and abject disregard for international law.
▪ You and the Association of the Families of the Victims at “PS752Justice” – the platform that you have inaugurated, have indicated that you would like Canada and other countries involved in the Response Group to join forces to take the case of Flight PS752 to the International Court of Justice. From the responses you have received from the countries, including Canada, is this demand achievable? What are the challenges you face in this particular road to justice?
Of course this demand is achievable. After two years, while the five affected countries have made every effort to engage in good faith, we believe that today, diplomacy ends and justice begins. The international community must understand that the Iranian government will not comply or respond in good faith. We demand that the five affected countries engage with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) immediately and initiate the process whereby the 36 members unite behind one goal; transparency, accountability and justice. In light of what has transpired over the past two years, the Iranian Government’s membership at the ICAO must be suspended and ultimately revoked if they fail to participate in the process.
▪ IRI has thus far has not recognized the jurisdiction of Canadian courts in particular about a class-action lawsuit in a Canadian civil court that awarded compensations to six families of Flight PS752. Iran has started judicial proceedings inside Iran, which has outraged the families with them protesting outside of the court in Iran. Can you tell us about IRI’s attempts to derail the process of justice in the case of Flight PS752 both inside and outside of Iran?
The downing of flight PS752 is a crime with international ramifications. First, the Iranian government is a signatory to the ICAO conventions and must abide by those regulations. They have breached all of their commitments under the ICAO conventions. Furthermore, the Iranian government has made every effort to derail the process by non-compliance with international law and by initiating a show trial where several low-ranking officials are put forth to support their narrative of human/systemic error.
The families and their lawyers in Iran have been denied any access to court records. The Ukrainian and Canadian governments have been denied access to the evidence or any meaningful participation in the process. The show trials have no legitimacy for us and lack any legitimacy under the auspices of international law and ICAO regulations. We hope that now, the five affected countries will engage in bringing this case to the ICAO council and ultimately to the International Court of Justice.
▪ Many, on social media and offline on the streets in Iran, stood in solidarity with you and other families of the victims. Some have received prison sentences for taking part in the candle vigils and protests in Iran objecting lack of accountability of IRI in Jan 2020. This year, there is the #IWillLightACandleToo campaign. Please tell us about the I Will Light a Candle Too campaign and other social responses in solidarity with your cause for justice.
Since January 8, 2020, Over 70 citizens have been imprisoned. Many more have been persecuted, harassed and intimidated by the regime’s security apparatus. We demand their immediate release. Since the first anniversary, our association started the #IWillLightACandleToo campaign as our way of expressing our solidarity with all of the victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The campaign received overwhelming support around the world. We are encouraged by the public support.
▪ The term dākhāhi in Persian solidified when the families of the victims of the 1988 executions of political prisoners in Iran started to seek justice for their loved ones. They have recently been able to bring Hamid Nouri, one of the perpetrators of these killings to court in Sweden. In remembering your wife and daughter, you have remembered others who IRI killed in the past 44 years. Do you see your dākhāhi as a process that is connected to all other justice-seeking efforts including that of the families of the victims of 1988 executions? Are you learning from families who sought justice before you?
The downing of flight PSA752 is yet another link in the long chain of crimes against humanity by the IRI. I believe that all of these crimes and their victims are interconnected and as the surviving family members, we must be united in our collective fight for justice against a common enemy. We remain resolute and steadfast in our united effort that will not be swayed by our deep grief. Just as the families of the 1988 victims never lost hope and continue to fight, we too, learn from them and join in the collective cause that affects all of us.