Activists Rail Against Iranian Government Over Crackdown After Deadly Building Collapse

Rights groups and activists have sharply criticized the Iranian government for its brutal crackdown on protesters who have taken to the streets in several cities following the deadly collapse of a residential building in the southern city of Abadan.

In a statement on June 3, more than 650 political prisoners, plaintiff families, cultural and artistic figures, labor and civil society activists, teachers, and journalists in Iran said people had the same right to take to the streets as government “supporters."

The statement comes as security forces and police clamp down on popular protests over corruption, which demonstrators say led to the collapse of a building in Abadan that killed at least 39 people. More than 30 others are feared to be still trapped under the rubble since the May 23 accident.

The collapse of the residential building has highlighted rising anger at Iran’s establishment.

Protesters initially directed their fury at local authorities. But the target of their protests quickly turned to the clerical regime, with demonstrators chanting “Death to Khamenei” and "Death to the dictator" -- also a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Today, you will rarely find Iranians who do not mourn for their lost loved ones, because of the policies, goals, and ideological and irresponsible actions of the rulers and governments of the last few decades," the statement by the activists said.

"Just as the rule of the streets gives its leaders the opportunity to benefit from it in various ceremonies, this undeniable right to mourning, litigation, protests, and demands by all Iranians in the streets is reserved," the statement added.

Authorities have cut off access to the Internet and used tear gas to quell the rallies. Videos posted online appear to show a security officer firing a weapon as police moved to clear the streets of protesters.

The signatories of the statement demanded the immediate and unconditional release of detainees held during the recent protests, as well as all political prisoners. They warned that the "issuers and executors of repressive orders" should end their practices.

Anti-government protests have increased in Iran in recent years.

The economy has been crippled by U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement, with poverty and unemployment soaring. Before the protests over the building collapse, authorities had faced weeks of protests in at least seven provinces over the skyrocketing prices of basic food items.

Writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi