The government of Iran has officially denied responsibility for the recent deaths of two prominent leaders of the Protestant church. However, groups monitoring religious rights in the country contend the killings are part of a government effort—whether active or passive—to stamp out Christianity in this Muslim-dominated Middle Eastern nation.
The son of 62-year-old Tateos Michaelian was called to identify the body of his father July 2, three days after the elder Michaelian had disappeared. A Presbyterian church official reported Michaelian had been shot three times, at least once in the head.
On July 5, Iranian officials announced that the body of Iranian evangelist Mehdi Dibaj, 60, who had been missing since June 24, was found in a park in the capital city of Tehran. Dibaj had been released in January after spending 10 years in prison for refusing to renounce his Christian beliefs (CT, March 7, 1994, p. 58). His freedom was widely attributed to international pressure; the charges of apostasy against him had not been dismissed.
Within three days of Dibaj's release seven months ago, Assemblies of God superintendent Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, who had led the international campaign on Dibaj's behalf, disappeared. In late January he was found murdered.
Dozens of other Christians have been detained, including permanent U.S. resident Hassan Shahjamali, who was allowed to leave July 20. One source with contacts in the government reports that evangelical leaders in Iran are on a "hit list" to be killed.
Dibaj's brother-in-law, Tony Aryan, says militant Muslims are bent on wiping out Christianity. "When you disappear, basically you're gone forever," says Aryan, who is in hiding in the United States. "The militants desire to kill ...1