Iran under pressure a year after downing Ukrainian airliner

Obfuscation over missile strike that killed 176 undermines trust towards Tehran

A year after Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet near Tehran airport it is under growing international pressure to try those responsible and compensate relatives of the 176 victims of the disaster.

Two Iranian rockets hit the Ukrainian airliner early on January 8th, 2020, just hours after Tehran had fired missiles at bases used by US forces in neighbouring Iraq in response to the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani the previous week.

Iran insisted for three days that a missile strike on the Boeing 737 was “impossible”, before admitting that its military had downed the jet by “disastrous mistake” while on high alert for a possible US attack.

"Today we honour the memory of those who perished and offer our sincere condolences to all who mourn the victims of the PS752 tragedy," Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Germany – which all lost citizens on the Tehran-Kiev flight – said in a joint statement on Friday.


“We urgently call on Iran to provide a complete and thorough explanation of the events and decisions that led to this appalling plane crash. Our countries will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries.”

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter: "Nothing can make up for loss of loved ones. Only thing we can do is to provide compensation ... and to hold those responsible to account. Justice will be served."

In an interim report Iranian investigators said problems with a military radar had led to the airliner being misidentified as an inbound cruise missile.

International experts say such an error is hard to fathom, and on Friday Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote: "It was impossible not to know then that it was a passenger plane in the air."

Trust towards Tehran has been in short supply due to its initial denials, its rapid clear-up of the crash site, and then its long delays in fulfilling an agreement to hand the plane's flight recorders to France for analysis and to give a draft technical report to Ukraine.


Canada rejected a recent announcement from Iran that it had allocated $150,000 (€122,000) for the family of each passenger.

“The issue of compensation will not be set through unilateral statements by Iran but rather be subject to state-to-state negotiations,” Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said this week.

“While Iran admitted its liability, it comes with great responsibilities for justice, transparency and accountability... Reparations are more than just compensation.”

Tehran is also accused of launching a crackdown on people who joined demonstrations over the disaster and of harassing victims’ relatives abroad.

"The authorities should immediately and unconditionally drop charges against those peacefully protesting, stop intimidating families, and direct their efforts to holding wrongdoers to account," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe