Iran’s leaders have imprisoned students for protesting the regime’s shooting down of a passenger airplane in January, while letting the general responsible for the disaster continue launching missiles, according to human rights observers.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner on January 8, killing all 176 passengers and crew members. The disaster, and the regime’s initial denials of responsibility, sparked protests that prompted the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force to admit responsibility on January 11.

Iran’s leaders have promised accountability, but instead they are punishing protesters.

Since April, Iran’s revolutionary courts have sent at least 13 people to prison for peacefully protesting the regime’s downing of the airplane, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a May 8 statement.

“The authorities should halt all prosecutions that violate the right to peaceful assembly and protest,” the group says.

On May 1, a branch of Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced University of Tehran student Mostafa Hashemizadeh to five years in prison on a charge of “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security,” HRW says, citing the student’s tweet. The court added an additional year in prison and 74 lashes for a charge of “disrupting public order,” HRW says.

The U.N. has deemed lashes tantamount to torture.

Men carrying a body bag next to rows of body bags (© Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Images)
Workers carry the body of a victim next to rows of body bags at the Ukrainian plane crash site in Shahedshahr, Iran, on January 8. (© Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Images)

The revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced another student protester, Amir Mohammad Sharifi, to six months in prison on a charge of “propaganda against the state.” The charge stems from posting photos of plainclothes police to social media, HRW says, citing a tweet from Sharifi.

The revolutionary court in Amol sentenced 11 other protesters each to eight months in prison on charges of promoting “propaganda against the state” for participating in a candlelight vigil for the victims and taking photos of the event.

Iran’s regime promised to investigate but has not released any findings. Iran’s leaders also have yet to make good on their March promise to send the airplane’s black boxes to Ukraine for analysis.

Military officer in uniform sitting on floor with other men (© Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Images)
IRGC Aerospace Force Commander General Amir Ali Hajizadeh is shown January 9 in Tehran. (© Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Images)

While the regime sends protesters to prison, it declines to punish the man who has admitted responsibility.

IRGC Aerospace Force Commander General Amir Ali Hajizadeh acknowledged responsibility for mistakenly downing the plane on January 11, Reuters has reported.

But Hajizadeh continues at his post. He supervised the April 22 launch of a military satellite that revealed a secret military space program that could advance Iran’s missile development and defied U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, U.S. officials say.

Also in April, an Iranian legislator sought to justify the downing of the civilian airliner, saying without evidence that “the plane was no longer under the control of the tower and appeared to have come under America’s control.”