Iranian officials ‘looted’ cellphones, rings, passports of plane crash victims, Canadian relatives say

Sources previously said Iran was harassing families of the crash victims, insisting they grieve privately and praise Tehran’s leaders

Iranian authorities stripped the bodies of plane crash victims in January of jewellery, passports and other personal belongings before returning the remains to their loved ones, three family members charged Tuesday.

The Canadian-based relatives alleged “looting” of bodies was just one part of a nightmarish ordeal for relatives in the wake of Iran’s shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, they told a virtual news conference.

Some coffins were also inscribed with the words: “Congratulations on your martyrdom,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash.

And Iranian officials called family members in Canada to tell them to stop criticizing the regime, he said.

“The bodies of these innocent people were looted and improperly and indifferently interfered with, causing indignity to the remains of the murdered,” said Esmaellion. “Most of the cell phones, rings, passports, they were looted. Money, the wallets, everything. And they have photos of Iranian officials searching the bags and the luggage to find something. We don’t know what they were doing.”

Esmaeilion is part of a new Canadian group, Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, that is fighting for better treatment of families affected by the tragedy and a broad international investigation of the incident.

Various sources told the National Post in January that Iran was harassing families of the crash victims, insisting they grieve privately, allow government minders to attend memorial events and publicly praise Tehran’s leaders. Authorities were using repatriation of remains as leverage, families and others told the Post.

The plane crashed outside Tehran on Jan. 8, killing 176 passengers and crew. It was a uniquely Canadian tragedy. The victims included 55 citizens of this country and 30 permanent residents, while a total of 138 passengers were heading to Canada, via Kyiv, many of them students returning after the Christmas break.

Iranian authorities originally claimed the plane’s demise was an accident, but under mounting pressure admitted that their military had mistakenly fired two missiles at the aircraft amid tension with the United States.

Nearly six months later, Iran has yet to turn over the two black boxes from the doomed plane to a country that has the technology to extract their data, despite having promised to do so.

Canadian Transportation Minister Marc Garneau urged Iran last week to transfer the data recorders, citing its obligations under International Civil Aviation Authority rules.

Garneau spoke to the ICAO council at a meeting that also considered Canada’s proposal for a Safer Skies strategy, a plan to better protect commercial airliners that fly over areas of military conflict.

Demonstrators chant while gathering during a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight that was unintentionally shot down by Iran, in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 11, 2020. Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg

An unconfirmed media report in April suggested that Iran wanted Canada and Ukraine to sign a memorandum of understanding that would in effect sign away future rights of the victims’ families to seek compensation, and recognize the crash as being due to human error.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told The Canadian Press at the time that he would never accept such conditions.

Various sources told the National Post in January that Iran was harassing families of the crash victims, insisting they grieve privately, allow government minders to attend memorial events and urging them to praise Tehran’s leaders. Authorities were using repatriation of remains as leverage, families and others told the Post.

(c) The province

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