Iran’s policy of not recognizing the second passports of dual nationals has led to intricate negotiations over how the remains of dozens of Iranian-Canadians who died aboard Flight 752 will be treated.
Tehran’s position could affect the consular services that Canada and other countries that have dispatched teams to Tehran can provide to families of the victims of the disaster – and where their remains are buried.
Oleksii Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said his country’s intelligence services were aware of 17 cases in which Canadian families were negotiating with the Iranian government over “how and where they will bury the bodies” of their relatives. Ukraine has had a team on the ground in Tehran since Jan. 9, one day after the Ukraine International Airlines plane was downed by a missile attack that Iran says was a “disastrous mistake.”
Two other sources in Ukraine – whom The Globe and Mail is not identifying because they were not authorized to speak on the record – said the issue of dual nationals was one of the thorniest in negotiations between Iran and the six other countries that lost citizens on Flight 752, a list that besides Canada and Ukraine includes Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and Britain.
State-controlled Iranian media has reported that more than 140 of the 176 people killed were Iranian passport holders and that there were just three Canadian citizens on board, rather than 57, as Canada says.
The first three members of a Canadian team that will handle consular issues arrived in Tehran Saturday. Eight other officials received their visas on the weekend and arrived in Iran Monday.
The London-based Persian-language TV channel Iran International reported on the weekend that some families of victims have been warned by authorities not to speak to foreign media or they will not receive their relatives’ bodies.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian author and activist living outside the country, also publicly raised concerns over the way victims’ loved ones have been treated. She tweeted Sunday that the family of three Iranian-Canadian victims told her that Iranian officials warned them that if they did interviews with media, “they won’t be able to [get] the body of their beloved ones back & bury them peacefully.”
Ms. Alinejad, who has a significant social-media following, also posted a video she said depicts a mother of an Iranian-Canadian victim. The woman, who does not appear on camera in the video, appears to be crying and says, according to a translation: “My child was not Iranian anymore. My child was Canadian.”
Within hours, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne responded to the post. “These allegations are disturbing and we will look into them,” he tweeted.
Asked for more details, Mr. Champagne’s office referred The Globe to the tweet and provided a statement. “As Minister Champagne has said, we are expecting full co-operation from the Iranian authorities regarding all 57 Canadians so that we may provide full support to their families during this difficult time,” spokesman Adam Austen said.
Ms. Alinejad later identified the woman in the video as the mother of Amir Hossein Saeedinia, who was a PhD student at the University of Alberta’s Centre for Design of Advanced Materials. Ms. Alinejad asked Mr. Champagne to “pressure the authorities in Iran so that they’ll stop harassing his family.”
The Globe has not independently verified the video. Ms. Alinejad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Champagne has convened a meeting of the international task force of countries who lost citizens on Flight 752 for Thursday in London. The meeting will be held at the Canadian High Commission.
Canada, Britain, Sweden and Afghanistan joined forces to create the International Coordination and Response Group for families of victims of Flight 752.
Will reports from Kathryn Blaze Baum in Toronto and Steven Chase in Ottawa
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