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December 04, 2003

Rene -- Obituary: Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali Hardline cleric known as the `hanging judge' of Iran

Obituary: Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali Hardline cleric known as the `hanging
judge' of Iran

The Independent - United Kingdom
Nov 29, 2003


AFTER THE establishment in 1979 of a fundamentalist Islamic republic
in Iran under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian army
occupied three Kurdish-Iranian towns for supporting the Democratic
Party of Iranian Kurdistan, condemned by Khomeini as "un-
Islamic". The hardline cleric Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali set up his
Islamic revolutionary court to weed out "counter-revolutionaries" in
the town of Saghez.

Learning that a Kurdish defendant who was born in Orumiyeh had lost a
hand to a grenade explosion during the Tehran uprising, Khalkhali
asked what he was doing in Saghez.

"I am a guest at a social get- together, your honour," replied the

"That fits together very well," Khalkhali said candidly, "Born in
Orumiyeh, participated in the Tehran uprising, executed in
Saghez. Kill him! Next!"

The next defendant was charged with being the son of a usurer.

"What does my father's crime have to do with me?" protested the

"Usury is haram - sin," thundered Khalkhali, "and so is the seed of
usury. Kill him! Next."

Twenty-four other Kurds were tried that day by Khalkhali. All were

The scene was typical of Khalkhali's Islamic revolutionary court,
where he acted as a prosecutor, judge and jury. The trials went on for
just under two years, earning him titles like "the hanging judge" or
the "butcher of the revolution". Two thousand members of the Shah's
regime were executed in 1979 alone, by Khalkhali's own admission in
his 1999 memoirs. Twenty years on, he remained unrepentant. "I would
do exactly the same again," he said, when reminded how defendants had
been given little chance to speak or get a lawyer to challenge
evidence, if any were presented. "If they were guilty, they will go to
hell and if they were innocent, they will go to heaven."

Hundreds of diplomats, academics and politicians were executed as
"counter- revolutionaries" in his court. They included Abbas Hoveida,
Iran's prime minister for 12 years under the Shah. When a reporter
from Le Figaro told Khalkhali in 2000 that he could face the
international courts of justice, he said: "No, it is not possible. If
I did anything wrong, Ayatollah Khomeini would have told me. I only
ever did what he asked."

Mohammed Sadeq was born in 1926 to Mohammed Sadeq Givi, a farmer, and
Mashadi Khanum Um-Elbanin, in the village of Givi near Khalkhal in the
north-western province of Azerbaijan. His education was exclusively
religious as a seminarian in the holy city of Qom, where he added the
provincial name Khalkhali according to clerical custom.

In the 1950s he joined an underground terrorist group Fedayeen Islam
(Commandos of Islam). The group was responsible for killing numerous
secular politicians in the 1960s and 1970s. Khalkhali was arrested by
the Shah's security services on many occasions between 1963 and 1978,
for his support of the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini, who was
living in exile until 1978.

In May 1950 the Shah's father, Reza Shah Pahlavi I, the founder of
modern Iran, died and Khalkhali planned to set fire to the corpse when
it was transferred from Egypt, but the train carrying it did not stop
at Qom as planned, thus foiling the plot. Later, when the Shah was
deposed by Khomeini in 1979, Khalkhali supervised the destruction by
dynamite of the mausoleum of Reza Shah I.

Khalkhali became part of a cruel dictatorship hiding behind a
population they imagined approved of their deeds. "I issued judgment
and acted as the conscience of 35 million people," Khalkhali
said. However, Iranian intellectuals saw him as more of a
psychopath. Some reports suggested he spent time during his youth
under strict observation in a lunatic asylum for his sadistic habit of
strangling cats.

Television footage taken in 1980 showed Khalkhali prodding the burnt
corpses of US soldiers killed in an unsuccessful mission to rescue
American hostages held at the US embassy in Tehran. Khalkhali
supported terrorism abroad and encouraged agents and volunteers to
assassinate exiled "counter- revolutionaries" and former politicians
he had condemned to death in absentia.

By 1981, Khomeini had forced Khalkhali to retreat into the background
but he resumed his executions as a head of the Iranian anti-narcotic
agency from 1982. He remained a member of parliament from 1980 until
1992. In 1992 he retired to Qom to teach in religious schools and
write his memoirs, and would give interviews gloating over the fate of
thousands of his victims.

Mohammed Sadeq Givi Khalkhali, cleric and writer: born Givi,
Azerbaijan 27 July 1926; married (one son); died Tehran 27 November