Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Iran to halt prosecutions of those who peacefully protested the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) deadly attack on a civilian airliner and the initial denial of responsibility.
The rights group said that since late April, Iranian courts had sentenced 13 people, including several students, to prison terms apparently just for taking part in peaceful protest over the January 8 downing of a Ukrainian civilian airliner, which the IRGC said it "mistakenly" shot down, killing 176 passengers and crew, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said.
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The incident, which led to outrage in the country, came hours after Iran had launched a missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in response to the January 3 assassination of the IRGC's Quds Force commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani, by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.
Tehran initially claimed the plane had crashed, but the IRGC admitted three days after the tragedy that Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight 752 had been shot down "unintentionally" by the country's air defenses.
Iranian authorities have said that 30 people were arrested in connection with the protests and that an unspecified number of people had been arrested in connection with the downing of the plane.
"Iranian authorities are following their usual playbook of dodging accountability," Michael Page, HRW's deputy Middle East director, said in a May 8 statement. "While refusing to provide details about any investigation of culpability for the deadly mistake, judicial officials are wasting no time in sentencing people who protested the loss of 176 lives."
Iran has said that the deadly incident will be investigated, but the authorities have not shared any details of their investigation.
Families of some of the victims have expressed concern that the coronavirus pandemic is slowing down any momentum toward justice for their loved ones, HRW said.
The right group said Iran should conduct a transparent investigation and cooperate with international bodies.