The family of a graduate student killed when Iran shot down a commercial plane two months ago has fled to Canada, alleging they were being threatened by authorities.
The mother, father, brother and aunt of Amir Hossein Saeedinia, a University of Alberta student who died in the Iranian missile attack, arrived in Edmonton last Friday seeking refugee status.
The Canadian government facilitated their arrival by quickly issuing visas to them in Ankara, Turkey, said Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, on Wednesday.
The aunt, Fatima Latifi, told Global News the family had been targeted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for speaking out about the Jan. 8 downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight.
“I started sending videos and photos to networks outside of Iran,” said Latifi. “But I was threatened with arrest by the IRGC intelligence and I was taken to the IRGC intelligence.”
“We were constantly under surveillance and pressure.”
Akbari said the family had been subjected to intense pressure in an attempt to silence them.
“They’ve been detained, they’ve been threatened,” he said. “Day by day, the situation escalated.”
In particular, they were warned not to take their case to an international court, he said.
“They really want to speak,” he said. “And also they want to encourage the rest of the families to stay strong, because they know they are under pressure, and find their way to speak and tell their stories.”
When Edmonton Iranian community members learned of their situation, they contacted the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Akbari said.
“The moment we sent the visa application, it just took less than 12 hours, everything was granted and even the Canadian embassy contacted them to leave Iran immediately,” he said.
Freeland’s spokesperson said her office was not involved.
Community members greeted them at the Edmonton airport, raised money for them, got them a place to stay and have been helping them resettle in the city.
“They can’t go back,” Akbari said.
He said the family wants to launch a lawsuit against Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, whom they hold responsible.
Flight 752 was shot down shortly after taking off from Tehran airport. Iran spent days denying responsibility until, confronted with video evidence, they acknowledged the IRGC had fired surface-to-air missiles at the Boeing 737.
The regime said its forces mistook the flight for a U.S. warplane. The incident occurred as Iran was bracing for retaliation after the IRGC fired missiles at military bases in Iraq used by U.S., Canadian and other troops.
Tensions were high at the time after Iranian-backed militias allegedly killed an American translator in Iraq, prompting the U.S. to target Qassem Sulaimani, leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force clandestine external operations branch, in a drone strike.
Of the 176 aboard the plane, 57 were Canadian citizens and 138 others had ties here — all of them died. Among them was Saeedinia, who was beginning his PhD at the U of A’s Centre for Design of Advanced Materials.
Days later, his family in Iran pleaded for Canada’s help in videos posted on social media, saying they were being intimidated for speaking openly about the tragedy, and complaining the regime had refused to release the body.
The downing of the plane fueled internal discontent and protests against the Iranian regime. Iran has said it would cooperate with an international investigation but has so far refused to hand over the black boxes for analysis.
–With a file from The Canadian Press