Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement on Friday criticized Iran for sentencing at least 13 people to prison terms for peacefully protesting the missile attack on a Ukrainian airliner in January and the initial denial of the responsibility for downing the plane.
"The authorities should halt all prosecutions that violate the right to peaceful assembly and protest," the statement said.
The peaceful protests started on January 9 in several cities and lasted for several days during which tens of protesters including several university students were arrested by security forces.
Mostafa Hashemizadeh, a civil engineering student of Tehran University, and Amir Mohammad Sharifi, another student of Tehran University, have in recent days announced on social media that they have been sentenced to five years and six months in prison, respectively, on national security charges and propaganda against the state.
Eleven others have been sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Amol, Mazandaran Province, on similar charges for participation in a vigil for the victims of the downing of the plane and the protests in the following days.
“Iranian authorities are following their usual playbook of dodging accountability,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While refusing to provide details about any investigation of culpability for the deadly mistake, judicial officials are wasting no time in sentencing people who protested the loss of 176 lives.”
For three days the authorities denied having anything to do with the crash and when the Armed Forces Central Command finally admitted that the plane had been shot down with missiles, it was attributed to "mistake" and "human error". The Head of the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces, Shokrollah Bahrami, on April 4 said one person, allegedly for firing the missiles, was detained and under investigation.
Iranian authorities have so far declined to send the flight recorders of the Ukrainian plane abroad to be decoded despite not having the technology to extract the data in Iran.