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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 15:37 GMT
Iran's 'hanging judge' dies at 76
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali
Ayatollah Khalkhali was unrepentant about his punishments
The former head of Iran's revolutionary courts, reputed to have sent hundreds of people to the gallows, has died.

Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali died aged 76 after battling health problems.

He became known as the "hanging judge" for the number of people he sentenced to death in the first months after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

He was seen on television poking with a stick the burnt corpses of US soldiers who were killed trying to rescue 52 hostages from the US embassy in Tehran.

The ayatollah's son said the former judge died after an operation in a Tehran hospital on Wednesday night.

"He had Parkinson's disease, heart and brain problems and he had been very ill in the last eight months," a relative told Reuters.


Ayatollah Khalkhali became lead prosecutor and judge of the revolutionary courts shortly after the US-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi was deposed in 1979.

He ordered the execution of many of the Shah's military officers, secret police leaders and civilian officers.

Dozens of left-wingers and Kurds who rebelled against the Islamic revolution were also put to death on his orders - many being hanged from construction cranes.

Many drug dealers were also executed after he was given orders to crack down on the problem.

He became notorious in the West, when television footage showed him prodding the dead bodies of American soldiers who had tried to rescue hostages from the US embassy in Tehran following the revolution.


In the end Ayatollah Khalkhali spent less than two years in the job. He was dismissed by leader Ayatollah Khomeini following concerns about his punishments.

But the former judge remained unrepentant.

"I believe, and still believe, that all members of the Shah's parliament and senate and all provincial governors and generals should have been sentenced to death," he wrote in retirement.

In the late 1990s, he published a list of 85 members of the Shah's government and security forces whom he sentenced to death.

In recent years, Ayatollah Khalkhali had expressed his support for the reformist movement of President Mohammad Khatami.

But he remained distrusted by the president's allies.

"He pretended to be a reformist but he was not, his support for reforms was a disgrace," said a reformist cleric in the holy city of Qom, where Ayatollah Khalkhali lived.

Iran marks US embassy seizure
04 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
15 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Iran
13 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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