Report Consistent with the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 1997, House Report 3610
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs, July 22, 1997.
The President has regularly hosted meetings attended by representatives of many religions, including leaders from Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, and other Christian communities, as well as leaders of Jewish, Islamic, Bahá'í, Buddhist, Hindu, and other faiths. For example, the President has met with the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, Bishop Belo, and other eminent religious leaders. Such meetings provide an opportunity to discuss crucial issues affecting Christians and other religious communities. They are also a means of gathering information that can be used in U.S. diplomatic efforts to advance religious freedom.
At the 1997 UNHRC meeting, the U.S. delegation made religious freedom one of its main thematic issues. The delegation delivered a strong statement on religious liberty and religious persecution, which included specific reference to the persecution of Christians in Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam, Pakistan, and China. The statement also cited other faiths that face persecution, including Tibetan Buddhists, Bahá'ís, Muslims, and Jews. The delegation worked successfully to incorporate language on religious freedom in several country-specific resolutions.
In 1996, as in past years, the United States co-sponsored a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) condemning religious intolerance. The U.S. Government also supported an UNGA resolution on human rights abuses in Iran that highlighted violations committed against Christians and Bahá'ís.
Current situation: The Iranian constitution declares that Islam is the "official
religion" of Iran and that "the sect followed is Ja'fari Shi'ism." The Government restricts
freedom of religion both for other Muslim sects and other religious minorities, including
Christians. The constitution states that other Islamic denominations "shall enjoy complete
respect," and also recognizes Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. Members of these
religions elect representatives to reserved parliamentary seats. They may practice their
religion and instruct their children, but the Government interferes with the administration of
their schools and harassment by government officials is common. The law also stipulates
penalties for government workers who do not observe "Islamic principles and rules."
Non-Muslims may not proselytize Muslims. Muslims who convert to another faith are
considered apostates and may be subject to the death penalty. Four Bahá'ís remain in prison
under death sentences, convicted on charges of apostasy in 1996. There have been no reports in
recent years of Christians convicted on apostasy charges.
Official oppression of evangelical Christians increased in 1996. In early July 1996, a Muslim
convert to Christianity, Shahram Sepehri-Fard, was arrested on charges of having "sensitive
information." He has been denied visitors since shortly after his arrest, and his condition is
unknown. In late September 1996, another Muslim convert to evangelical Christianity, Pastor
Mohammed Yussefi (also known as Ravanbaksh), was found dead in a public park. He is widely
believed to have been murdered by Iranian authorities. Yussefi had been imprisoned by the
Government on several occasions prior to his death. Three members of an opposition movement,
Mojahadin-e-Khaleq (MEK), Farohnaz Anami, Betoul Vaferi Kalateh, and Maryam Shahbazpoor,
are currently in prison for the 1994 murder of Reverend Tatavous Michaelian, an evangelical
Protestant pastor. The three women claim that two other Christian pastors murdered in 1994,
Reverend Mehdi Dibaj and Reverend Haik Hovsepian Mehr, were also killed by the MEK.
However, many observers believe that it is more likely that the Government is responsible for
In January 1997, two Christian evangelists, Daniel Baumann and Stuart Timm, were arrested
and detained under suspicion of espionage, a charge which is often levied against persons who
proselytize in Iran. Baumann is a Swiss/American dual national and Timm holds South African
citizenship. Both eventually were released without having been charged.
U.S. Government actions: The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran and is
therefore unable to directly monitor the serious problems of religious persecution that exist in
In coordination with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, the United States worked to obtain the
release of Daniel Baumann, who was freed in March. Stuart Timm was released in February.
In 1996 the U.S. Government publicly condemned Iran's persecution of Christians, Bahá'ís, and
other religious minorities on a number of occasions at international fora, in policy statements,
and through radio broadcasts.
At the UNHRC, the UNGA, and the International Labor Organization, the United States strongly
supported resolutions condemning human rights violations in Iran, including the persecution of
Christians. The United States also called for extending the mandates of the U.N. Special
Representative for Iran, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, and the U.N.
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, each of whom visited Iran in 1995 to
ascertain details about conditions there. The U.N. Special Representative on Iran is awaiting an
invitation from the Government and has been unable to visit the country.
The State Department spokesman has issued statements on the mistreatment of Bahá'ís and
Christians in Iran and several Voice of America editorials have focused on this problem.