A petition calling for a ban on overflights by foreign airlines in Iran's airspace launched by families of victims who perished when a Ukrainian airliner was shot down over Tehran in January has sparked huge controversy among Iranian social media users.
Hamed Esmaeiliyon a representative of victim families from Canada spearheads the petition drive. He lost his wife and daughter in the tragic incident.
Since the announcement of the petition, which also bears the names of some other victim relatives, critics and supporters of the move in Iran and abroad have been fighting a fierce battle with each other on social media platforms such as Twitter.
Mr. Esmaeiliyon's critics view his campaign as a political move against the regime. They allege that a ban on overflights will only deprive other Iranians of visiting their family members abroad or going home and will affect the country's economy which is already bleeding under the pressure of U.S. sanctions.
"Political activity is good as long as it dose not turn into a comedy," @VHonary wrote in a tweet. "Not safe? How many foreign flights have been downed by missiles until now? More importantly why not asking Iranians to sign the petition? And if they do, why not ask for a ban on domestic flights?". Another user, @Patient0Zero, in her tweet said those who support the ban on the Iranian airspace should be aware that such a ban will affect access to imported medicine.
Some even agree with Mr. Esmaeliyon in demanding justice for the crime of targeting a plane and killing civilians but not with his demand for an embargo on the country's airspace. This "is not his right, it is another crime against the people of Iran," @AmirMosalla, a journalist based in Iran wrote in a tweet.
Supporters of Mr. Esmaeiliyon's campaign, however, say a ban on overflight on Iran's airspace will force the regime to take responsibility for its actions, cooperate with the countries whose citizens lost their lives in the tragic incident and help prevent similar incidents from happening again.
"The Islamic Republic would not have lasted for 41 years if hundreds or thousands, to maintain their own petty interests, had not drown the voices of those calling for justice ," Shadi Sadr, a London-based human rights lawyer and activist tweeted.
Some supporters also view the campaign as a move that can hurt the regime and believe that as a civil action it can contribute to the downfall of a regime that is not accountable for its deeds.
"Who else among the opposition has been able to do what this man [Mr. Esmaeiliyon] has been doing? He has been able to endanger the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenues for the regime [from providing overflight to international airliners]?" @shayan_shahnazi tweeted.
"The EU member states should not agree to overflight over Iranian airspace until the government [of Iran] demonstrates its commitment to cooperate with international bodies to conduct a credible investigation into the events leading to the destruction of PS752," the petition published on May 10 demands. So far 33,000 have signed the petition which also calls for the identity of the perpetrators to be revealed.
The Revolutionary Guard shot down the commercial airliner by two missiles after it took off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board. Officials of the Guard only took responsibility for what they called "human error" after three days. The families of the victims also say that they do not see any will from Iranian authorities to identify and punish those responsible for the tragedy.
In his petition, Mr. Esmaeilion who is also the spokesman of an association representing the families of the victims and the public face behind the petition has also protested to the talks with Iran led by Lufthansa to return to Iran's flight corridors.
Lufthansa has responded to Mr. Esmaeiliyon saying they are not overflying Iran because of the incident in January and are "closely monitoring the situation and as all airlines, require a transparent investigation and assurances that a similar incident should never happen again".
Iranian authorities have not commented on Mr. Esmaeiliyon's petition or his allegations of harassment by Iran's security forces.