Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali

Hardline cleric known as the 'hanging judge' of Iran
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The Independent Online

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

"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 defendant.

"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 executed.

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.

Adel Darwish