Human Rights Watch has issued a statement expressing grave concern over the recent wave of arrests in the Iranian province of Khuzestan.

The rights group is demanding the immediate release of the “65 Arab residents” recently detained in Khuzestan.

Human Rights Watch also demands investigations into the deaths of two local activists who “have died in Intelligence Ministry detention facilities in the past week.”

Mohammad Kaabi, 34, and Nasser Alboshokeh Derafshan, 19, are identified by Human Rights Watch as the two detainees who appear to have died under torture while in custody. The report indicates that most of the detainees have been held incommunicado.

Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, says: “There has been a blackout inside Iran on this latest round of arrests targeting Arab protesters and activists.” He adds: “Authorities should immediately divulge the reasons for the arrests, give detainees access to family members and lawyers, bring all detainees promptly before a judge, and hold anyone responsible for torture to account.”

The arrests were reportedly triggered by a group of citizens writing slogans on walls which called for a boycott of the coming parliamentary elections.

Iranian human rights activist Yousef Azizi Banitaraf had told Zamaneh earlier that security forces had invited the head of the local tribes to bring his people to the voting booths, and young people had decided to use graffiti to discourage this move.

Azizi Banitaraf had also indicated that the detainees may be coerced into making recordings in which they confess to being spies.

A further concern is that the detainees could be at “imminent risk of execution if they are convicted of national security crimes, including terrorism or espionage, or face prosecution on such charges.”

Khuzestan Province, in southwestern Iran, has a large ethnic Arab population, which has long been critical of the government’s failure to promote socioeconomic development in the region. The community also alleges that the government has systematically discriminated against them in all aspects of their lives.