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Relatives of downed Ukraine airliner victims say possessions ‘looted’

A woman reacts in front of a memorial for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash in the Iranian capital Tehran, at the Boryspil airport outside Kiev on January 8, 2020. - A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran Wednesday killing all 176 people on board, in a disaster striking a region rattled by heightened military tensions. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman reacts in front of a memorial for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash in the Iranian capital Tehran, at the Boryspil airport outside Kiev on 8 January 2020 [SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images]

Relatives of victims aboard the Ukrainian civilian airliner downed by Iranian missiles in January have claimed their loved ones’ possession were “looted”, in a press conference held online on Tuesday, 160 days after the tragedy.

Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in the crash, told the virtual conference:

Our families’ belongings were looted, and what was not looted was confiscated by Iranian officials. No one knows where my wife’s wedding ring and my daughter’s pink doll is; they have not been returned.

Esmaeilion said he lost his daughter’s wristband, coat, carry on and both her Canadian and Iranian passports in the aftermath.

Other families also lost possessions including laptops, mobile phones, according to Esmaeilion.

“We have photos of Iranian officials just searching the bags and the luggage to find something. We do not know what they were doing,” he said.

READ: Iran blocks contraceptive provisions to boost population

Tackling how the possessions were lost, the Iranian-Canadian told the conference the crash site was razed with bulldozers, burnt and destroyed after the Ukrainian airliner was downed, before an investigation could take place.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was downed by missiles fired the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on 8 January, killing all 176 onboard.

Iranian officials initially denied responsibility and insisted the plane crashed as a result of a technical fault. Days later, however, the Iranian military admitted it had shot down the plane, allegedly mistaking it for an incoming cruise missile.

Relatives of the victims, however, cast doubt over the Iranian version of events during Tuesday’s press conference. Javad Soleimani, who lost his wife in the crash, asked whether the downing of the plane could have been intentional.

“How could a cruise missile possibly travel hundreds of kilometres into Iranian airspace and reach Tehran undetected by the integrated air defence network and all the associated radars?” he asked.

Victim’s relatives speaking at the press conference also raised other unanswered questions, including why Iranian officials have failed to hand over the black boxes to investigators and have now claimed the boxes are damaged, despite initially stating they were intact.

READ: Iran rejects UN report that arms ‘of Iranian origin’ used in Saudi attacks

Speakers said they had little hope of Iranian cooperation that could lead to a meaningful investigation into the deaths of their family members. They claimed the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) – a Toronto-based NGO which claims to “represent the interests of Iranian Canadians” – had failed to mention the IRGC as the perpetrators of the attack.

According to Esmaeilion, the ICC “have taken no steps to help us in our fight for justice”.

Adding, after “160 sleepless nights”, families and supporters of the PS752 victims are demanding a plan for holding Iran to account.

In a comment sent to MEMO, the ICC said: “The ICC reached out to Mr. Hamed Esmailion on two occasions to offer our condolences and discuss with him the support that the ICC can offer to him and the association of victims’ families. Both times Mr. Esmailion rejected our requests to talk.”

“The ICC’s position has been clear from the beginning that we demand full and independent investigation, accountability, justice and transparency about the tragedy of flight 752… At the same time, the ICC has been opposed to efforts by some partisan organisations to exploit this horrible tragedy to impose collective punishment on Iranian people and further isolate the country. We believe that the best way forward is to demand accountability, transparency and justice in accordance with international law and civil aviation regulations without further isolating and punishing Iranians inside Iran and in the diaspora.”

UPDATE: On 23 June 2020 at 15:15 the ICC’s comment was added to the piece.

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