Recovery workers at the site of a Ukraine passenger jet crash near Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020

The Iranian regime has finally punished 10 troops over the January 8, 2020 downing of a Ukrainian civilian jet that killed 176 passengers and crew.

The Iranian judiciary said a military court punished a commander with a 10-year sentence for having “fired two missiles contrary to orders” and without obtaining authorization. He was also given a three-year term for being an “accessory to semi-intentional murder”.

The officer will serve a maximum of 10 years and must pay compensation to families of victims, the judiciary said.

“Given the extent of the effects and consequences of this action, the main defendant was sentenced to the maximum penalty,” posted the judiciary’s website Mizan Online.

Two personnel who were operating the missile system each received one-year sentences. Other officials in Tehran’s air defense control and the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were given sentences ranging from one to three years.

None of the defendants were named.

The news of the sentencing was the first time that regime officials said troops “defied orders”, rather than acting on their own because no orders had been issued.

The judiciary said the case’s 20 hearings involved 117 plaintiffs, 55 of whom testified in court and were represented by 20 attorneys.

A Shifting Regime Narrative

The news is the latest in a changing narrative by the Iranian regime since the shootdown.

The incident occurred five days after the US assassinated Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, in a drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport. Hours before the downing, Iran fired rockets on Iraqi base with American personnel.

An anti-aircraft battery fired two missiles at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, soon after it took off from Imam Khomeini Airport outside Tehran en route to Canada.

Fragments from the exploding missiles immediately downed the jet, killing all aboard. More than 100 passengers were Iranian citizens, some of whom held dual nationality.

For more than two days the Iranian military did not inform civilian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, of its responsibility for the shootdown. Iranian officials initially blamed the crash on “catastrophic engine failure”, and debris was moved from the crash site before international inspectors arrived.

In December 2020, Iran’s Cabinet declared that it had allocated $150,000 for relatives of each victim. However, there is no indication that payments have been made, and some families have refused to accept any money.

Instead, Canadian and international bodies have pursued a formal attribution of responsibility. In June 2021, In June, Canadian experts concluded that Tehran was “fully responsible” because of the “incompetence, recklessness, and wanton disregard for human life” of Iranian officials.

The specialists found that the anti-aircraft fire was not “premeditated” or ordered by Iranian authorities, as a soldier “likely acted on his own”. However, they noted that Iranian authorities did not close airspace or notify airlines, and that after the shootdown, the site was bulldozed and access was blocked to the site, evidence, and witnesses.

In January 2022, on the second anniversary of the killings, Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the UK have warned Iran of legal action as Iran continues to stall over reparations.

“The Coordination Group’s patience is wearing thin,” the quartet said, adding that they will “have to seriously consider other actions to resolve this matter within the framework of international law”.

Days later, a Canadian court awarded C$107 million ($83.94 million), plus interest, to the families of six slain passengers.

See also Multinational Legal Action v. Iran Over Downing of Ukraine Passenger Jet