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 outrage in Iran over the downing of the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737-800.
Protests erupted in Iranian cities on January 11, after the country’s military said UIA Flight 752 was shot down “unintentionally” by an antiaircraft missile shortly after it took off from Tehran’s Imam Kohmeini International Airport on January 8. 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
Thousands of protesters took to the streets over the weekend and into January 13 to vent their anger with the clerical establishment over the incident.
Videos posted online purported to show police and security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators near Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square on the night of January 12, AP reported.
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.
Police in Tehran have denied that shots were fired at protesters and said officers were given orders to “show restraint.”
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.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on January 14 he was glad Iran 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.”