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Washington, 12 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Human Rights Watch in a statement on 11 May urged Iran to release an Iranian journalist detained apparently for criticizing the government´s fierce response to unrest last month in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.

Yusef Azizi Banitaraf was arrested in Tehran on 25 April, after he denounced at a seminar the excessive use of force by security forces and consequent deaths of protesters in the Khuzestan capital, Ahwaz.

Local residents claim government agents killed at least 50 protesters, and arrested as many as 1,200 people, Human Rights Watch stated.

Iran has said it detained over 300, and released most of those, while its defense minister said on 19 April that less than five had died, according to the statement on its website (http://www.hrw.org).

Some of those arrested on 16 and 17 April, the days following the unrest, may have been tortured. One, Sadiq Shoiki, was reportedly tortured so much he could no longer "talk, walk, or stand," Human Rights Watch stated, citing a U.S. based Iranian rights group and Shoiki's family, who visited him in prison in Abadan, a town near Ahwaz.

Human Rights Watch urged Iran to let independent journalists visit the area.
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