After three days of denial, the Iranian regime finally, on January 11, 2020, acknowledged that it was responsible for the January 8 downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 shortly after its takeoff from Tehran. Most of the 176 passengers who were killed were young, promising Iranian students from the country's elite. That day, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh tearfully took responsibility for the downing of the plane. Also that day, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for an investigation into the "regrettable incident" that, he said, was the result of human error. On January 13, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said that "[President Rohani's] government had not lied" about the circumstances of the plane crash because it had neither known the facts nor been informed of them.
Beginning on January 11, public anti-regime and anti-Khamenei demonstrations spread in cities across Iran, primarily at the universities. The protestors expressed their rage at the regime's and the leadership's lies and subterfuge about the plane crash, particularly at Khamenei, who had been busy with the campaign of the mourning for Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, and in presenting the January 8 IRGC missile attack on two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. military personnel as having caused the widescale loss of life and property to the U.S. that the leadership had promised in the days preceding the attacks.
Protests Reflect The Iranian Public's Loss Of Faith In The Regime And The Supreme Leader – January 2020
While previous public protests, in December 2017 and in the "fuel revolt" of November 2019, had erupted against a backdrop of the economic situation in the country and of regime decisions that negatively impacted the public, the current protest is the result of a severe crisis of confidence among the Iranian people vis-à-vis the Khamenei regime – a protest against its culture of lies and denial of responsibility for the consequences of its actions that typifies it. This time, intellectuals and other figures identified with the reformist camp joined the people filling the public squares to protest against the regime and its leader over the lies and the refusal to take responsibility for the downing of the plane and the killing of some of the best of Iran's young people. Many young people are taking to the streets and city squares with calls of "Death to the Leader [Khamenei]," "Death to the Dictator," "The Islamic Republic [of Iran] Should Be Annihilated," and "Death to the Religious Scholars who Killed the Youth of the Homeland!"
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Another manifestation of the anti-regime protests was university students' demonstrative rejection of the regime's enmity towards the U.S., as expressed by their refusal to walk on the flags of the U.S. and Israel painted on the ground on the campus – even though the U.S. had killed Qods Force commander Soleimani, beloved of the regime, mere days before. In these incidents, crowds of students booed the few who stepped on the American flag, chanting at them "You have no honor!" – expressing their moral high ground over the regime and its members.
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On January 12, the front pages of the newspapers close to reformist and moderate circles called on the country's political leaders to step down, calling their conduct in the airplane downing was "unbelievable" and "inexcusable," and publishing the names of all those who had died in it. Against the backdrop of the public's loss of confidence, three news presenters for the state broadcasting network announced their resignation, expressing their regret for collaborating with the regime by reporting lies to the people for years.
A number of former top politicians from reformist circles – among them former Majlis speaker and Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi and his advisor Abbas Abdi – also called on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down because of his responsibility for the airplane disaster, and for lying about and whitewashing it to the public. Karroubi and Abdi, along with exiled journalist Akbar Ganji, protested against the regime-led culture of lying in Iranian society and argued that the crisis of loss of public confidence in the regime and in Khamenei were irreparable.
The following are highlights of statements by Karroubi, Abdi, Ganji, and reformist Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad:
Former Majlis Speaker Karroubi To Khamenei: "You Have None Of the Resourcefulness, Courage, Administrative [Ability], Or Strength Required of A Leader"
Former Majlis speaker Mehdi Karroubi, a leader of the Green Movement who has been under house arrest since 2011 for his part in protesting against the brutal suppression of Iranian citizens demonstrating against fraud in the 2009 presidential elections, published an open letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on January 11. In it, he recalled Khamenei's direct responsibility for the downing of the passenger plane, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and argued that Khamenei was unfit to lead Iran, enumerating his responsibility for the repression and murder of his people in this and earlier incidents. Karroubi listed among these incidents the series of 1998 assassinations of Iranian intellectuals and writers who had dared criticize the regime, the 2009 election fraud and the brutal suppression of the Green Movement protests in its aftermath; and the repression of public protests in 2017 and 2019. He added that he did not believe that Khamenei had not known the truth of the Ukrainian airliner affair from day one, as was hinted in the media, and that Khamenei was responsible for concealing the truth from the people for days. He wrote:
"... I am writing to you in connection with the catastrophic situation prevailing in the country as a result of your failed leadership and your wrongheaded intervention in all affairs in the country. Today, after three days of brazen denial and deceit [by the regime], comes the news of our forces' downing of the passenger plane with a missile – only after the West exposed the truth of this disgrace – that left bereft the families whose dear ones were on that flight. [Today], I decided to remind you of an important point, in this brief letter.
"As the commander in chief of the armed forces, you bear on your shoulders direct responsibility for this affair. Tell me, on the morning of Wednesday, January 8, 2020, did you know about the disaster? Or, as the media claim, did your associates inform you of it only on Friday, January 10, 2020? If on Wednesday you already knew [the truth] and nevertheless allowed the military, security, and propaganda authorities to deceive the public, woe betide you. Because you certainly have none of the qualifications and attributes required by the constitution for the position of leader of Iran.
"But this disgrace is not the only disgrace for which you are directly responsible. [Others include] the failure to accurately deal with the series of murders [of intellectuals] in 1998, the election fraud and the subsequent bloody suppression of the protests in 2009, the suppression of demonstrators in 2017, and, recently, the suppression of the exhausted public in the fuel price hike of November 2019.
"And if, as [the media] claim, you knew nothing of this disaster and did not follow the exposure of the truth, please tell me: What kind of supreme leader are you, who is being played for a fool, as is the country? Even if this is the case, it is clear that you have none of the resourcefulness, courage, administrative [ability], or strength required of a leader."
Abbas Abdi: "There Was No Lie Here – There Was Organized Concealment, Which is Worse Than A Lie"
In an open letter to Khamenei dated January 12, 2020, reformist leader Abbas Abdi protested to Khamenei against the regime's systemic culture of lies and against its regular false reports to its citizens. The problem, he wrote, is not the lie itself, but the organized concealment of it, to the point where the top regime echelons claimed days after the airliner had been downed that they knew nothing of the actual events. Abdi maintained that this claim of ignorance was worse than the order to fire the missile that downed the plane. He also protested against the lack of a free media in the country, and against the establishment media's inability to criticize the regime and its actions. He wrote:
"... In this affair, from the outset, it seemed as if lying about it would be idiotic... Therefore, [I thought] that the authorities were telling the truth [that the plane crash was the result of a technical glitch]. Not because the regime does not lie, but because I thought that it had the sense not to lie about this...
"On the evening of Thursday, January 9, 2020, I met a senior government official at a certain gathering... He spoke about the airplane and said vehemently and in one word that the reason [for the crash] was a technical glitch. His words were so firm that I was convinced that he himself really believed them! That same night, I phoned someone I knew who was one of those in charge of [Iran's] national aviation organization. At first he didn't answer, but then he called me back and it turned out that he had participated, together with the organization's president, [in an interview aired by] the [national] broadcasting authority to explain why 'it wasn't a missile that downed the airplane!'
"Although some of the excuses were understandable to simple folk... there were points that went unmentioned. For example, what about the [shell] fragments in the airplane... why was there no recording [of the communications] between the pilot and [flight] control, and how could they make excuses for what is [clearly] visible in the video of the incident? My acquaintance in the national aviation organization said that the organization's president had vehemently denied that there had been a missile strike... but he had to tell me the truth, or at least express doubt, because the national aviation organization and the Transportation Ministry surely knew the truth...
"[Time] passed... and on Friday, January 10, 2020, the government spokesman Ali Rabiei phoned me... He told me that 'this whole story [about a technical glitch] was a lie, and my blood is being spilled [because now they are saying I lied].' It is interesting that Rabiei too thought first of all of his honor! Indeed, he was right, because in a system that has no mercy for itself there is no reason for its members to think of its honor. Rabiei explained that [President] Rohani had explained to him that the last part of his [Rabiei] statements [at the press conference at which Rabiei had stated that crash was due to a technical glitch] was not true...
"At the same time, I attempted [to obtain information] via another channel – and the outcome was terrible. That channel attempted to obtain information from his closest connections, and [also] they categorically denied that there had been any missile involved in downing the plane.
"I am absolutely amazed that this is a system in which even the closest to it know nothing [about what really happens]. Later, it became clear that the problem is more than just a lie. There was no lie here – there was organized concealment [of the truth], which is many times worse than a lie... The problem, as I see it, goes beyond lies. We are dealing with a flawed and inefficient [regime] structure...
"The main problem in this story is not the principle of lying. It is whether such an incident could happen and [still] not be known to the country's top political and military echelons three days later [hinting at Khamenei and Rohani]. Is it conceivable that a certain level of the operational arm [of the IRGC] made this mistake [of firing the missile] but did not allow anyone outside of its own circle to know about it? ...
"Systematic concealment is the root of this crisis, and it is worse than lies. I will say clearly that I have said the same about the murders of writers in 1998: The authorities' ignorance in the matter of these murders was even worse than if they had been ordered by the authorities. Today too, the ignorance about what happened – on all levels that should have known about it – is much worse than the affair itself.
"This disastrous affair reminds us of several points. The first of these is the lack of a free media, which is the mother of all the troubles in Iranian society. A media that cannot examine anything is better off not existing. This is the media that should have proven that the missile downed the airplane... The concealment and the lying to the public, not to mention under such circumstances, is unacceptable. There is no mistake here – there is only a plan and a method that were chosen as a modus operandi... "
Exiled Journalist Ganji: "In The Dictatorship Of The Islamic Republic, The Media And The Majlis Cannot Question Khamenei – Because In The Absence Of Democracy And Freedom... Those In Power Are Not Responsible [For A Thing] – But This Does Not Relieve Khamenei Of Responsibility"
In a January 12 article posted on Mehdi Karroubi's Telegram channel, exiled Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji called on Khamenei, in an open letter, to account for his actions and to step down from his post. Also in the letter, he underlined a comparison between "the two commanders in chief, Trump and Khamenei," noting that Khamenei is responsible for downing a passenger plane and for the deaths of sons of Iran. He added that the crisis of confidence following the regime's conduct is so severe that it cannot be repaired. The clerics who control the country have achieved a culture of lies in the country and the crisis in the public's confidence in the regime, he said, and he called on the regime leaders not to drag the people into war and to relinquish power so that a secular democratic republic committed to citizens' freedom can arise in the regime's stead.
Ganji was arrested in 2001 after publishing a series of articles about the 1988-98 murders and disappearances of oppositionist writers and intellectuals in which he hinted that senior Iranian officials were involved. He was imprisoned from 2001 to 2006, during which time he called for boycotting presidential elections in the country on the grounds that they perpetuate the Khamenei regime's totalitarian order.
He wrote in his letter: "What should Khamenei do, as the one responsible for downing the plane and for the death of dozens of people? Ayatollah Khamenei is [Iran's] leader and he has absolute control. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces. Therefore, he bears all the responsibility for the launching of the missile at the passenger plane, which took the lives of Iranians and non-Iranians.
"In America, Trump, as commander in chief of the armed forces, is under attack from all corners... The criticism of Trump for his decisions as commander in chief is completely reasonable, since as commander in chief he is accountable. America's democratic society enables, via freedom of speech – which is part of its essence – attacks against Trump every so often, and there are demonstrations against him. He also responds to his critics... Besides the media, the Congress [sic] and the Senate harass him, and his election rivals criticize his foreign policy...
"Khamenei too is commander in chief of the armed forces. He gave the order for 'severe retaliation' against America following Soleimani's assassination. A few hours after the declaration of 'severe retaliation' in a situation in which [IRGC] officials claimed they were on the alert [after they fired on the bases in Iraq], the passenger plane was downed by a missile, and the best of Iran's sons lost their lives. This is one of the consequences of that order. Khamenei is the one responsible for the entire operation, and he must be held accountable for its consequences.
"In the dictatorship of the Islamic republic, the media and the Majlis cannot question Khamenei. This is because in the absence of democracy and freedom, the reality is that those in power are not responsible [for a thing]. But this does not relieve Khamenei of responsibility. The responsibility for the blood of those killed falls on him, because he is the commander in chief of the armed forces.
"Notice that the crash of the passenger plane that was caused by a missile took place during an operation that was conducted on Khamenei's orders, and this is because Operation Severe Retaliation was carried out on his orders, and because afterwards he said that this [operation of missiles fired at bases in Iraq housing U.S. soldiers] was just a slap in the face [for Trump] but that the [true] retaliation was still pending. The mistake and the error of firing [the missile at the airplane] does not relieve Khamenei of responsibility. He is the commander in chief of all the armed forces, and he commanded this operation,.
"This incident came as a mighty shock. The [Islamic] Revolution and the violence [of the regime] that came after it caused confidence [in the regime] to atrophy over the past four decades. The main thing is that the public's lack of faith [in the regime of the] Islamic Republic has impacted the regime so severely that it cannot be rehabilitated. It has also spread to society. When it is so useful to lie, lying becomes the lot of everyone. Who believes anyone now?
"The crisis of confidence has been gradually spreading for decades. Now we have arrived at a situation in which we have no national figures that anyone can trust. When we point out a particular figure, everyone attacks him [as a liar]...
"This is one of the achievements of the jurisprudent. The jurisprudent has left behind the worst possible report card. The death of Iran's beloved [sons caused by] launching a missile in the warlike atmosphere that prevailed following [Iran's] missile attack [on bases in Iraq] is one of their achievements.
"With all this, Iran yet exists. You have done everything possible, but do not do this to the Iranians; do not drag Iran into war, and do not bring about the dismantling and destruction of Iran. If war breaks out, tens of millions of Iranians will be killed, wounded, and uprooted. Even if you do not value human life, at least do not allow such an event to be carried out in the name of the clerics.
"Iran needs a nonviolent transition to a secular and democratic republic committed to freedom, human rights, and justice, and rejecting all ethnic, religious, gender, and status discrimination. [The clerics must] abandon power – for the sake of Iran and the Iranians – and prepare a nonviolent move to shift the power from the Islamic Republic to a secular republic. This [should be] Khamenei's response to this disaster. This response will be for the good of all."
Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad: The Regime "Must Not Play With The Iranian People"
Seminary instructor Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad said on January 11: "The absence of integrity and capability in the senior Iranian officials in the matter of addressing the passenger plane crash is the great catastrophe. Now there is a need to return to God and to the truth.
"These officials need to ask the people for forgiveness. Why not declare a period of public mourning? The Iranian officials must give the people an opportunity to attend the funerals of those martyred in the plane crash catastrophe and an opportunity to convey their message. The officials must not repeat the mistakes that they made in the November 2019 unrest. They must not play with the Iranian people."
 IRNA.ir, January 13, 2020.
 Etemad, Arman-e-Meli, and Iran, respectively.
 Abdi was one of the students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, but later became a reformist. He has been accused by ideologues in recent years of involvement in spying for the U.S., after he publicly expressed support for a renewal of Iran-U.S. relations and was even sent to prison for this.
 Sahamnews.org, January 11, 2020.
 Etemadnewspaper.ir, January 12, 2020.
 Sahamnews.org, January 12, 2020.
 Kaleme.com, January 11, 2020.