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Daughter Of Iran's 'Hanging Judge' Breaks Silence About Her Notorious Father

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

The cover of the magazine Andisheye Pouya, featuring a photograph of Fatemeh Sadeghi

Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali is notorious as Iran's "hanging judge," having ruthlessly ordered hundreds of summary executions after trials that sometimes lasted just minutes in the months following Iran's 1979 revolution.

His daughter, however, remembers him differently.

"My father's outside image is very violent," Fatemeh Sadeghi says in an interview published this month in the Iranian magazine Andisheye Pouya. "But that's not the image of him that I had at home. He was very strict at home, but he would never beat me."

Sadeghi said her father never discussed his dark past with her.

"He didn't want to talk about it," she said. "It was clear that he had [some issues], but he wasn't remorseful."

Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini selected Khalkhali to head the newly created Revolutionary Courts shortly after taking power. Before Khalkhali was forced to step down and sidelined in December 1980, he sent hundreds of people to their deaths, including many affiliated with the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

In his 2000 autobiography, Khalkhali wrote that he indeed felt no remorse.

"I killed over 500 criminals close to the royal family, hundreds of rebels in the Kurdistan, Gonabad, and Khuzestan regions, and many drug smugglers,'' Khalkhali wrote, according to a translation by The New York Times.

''I feel no regret or guilt over the executions. Yet I think I killed little. There were many more who deserved to be killed, but I could not get my hands on them," he added.

Khalkhali died in 2003 at the age of 77.

The Andisheye Pouya interview this month marks the first time that Sadeghi, a respected women's rights activist who has criticized the compulsory hijab in the past, has spoken publicly about her father.

While she says she doesn't intend to justify her father or defend his actions, she asserts that, at that moment in her country's history, those in charge had to demonstrate "revolutionary decisiveness."

"The atmosphere then was very ideological," Sadeghi said. "I don't want to say that my father was kind -- not at all. But that ideological atmosphere required revolutionary decisiveness."

"At that time, they all wanted to present themselves as revolutionaries to scare the enemy. This is how I see things," she added.

She says she never felt she had to defend Khalkhali, who is believed to have acted with Khomeini's blessing, because "my father always insisted that his political face -- good or bad -- was his business."

"He presented himself as a revolutionary and believed that he had to accept some bad notoriety for the revolution," she said. "[My father] would always say: 'We made the revolution and we have to stand by it.' I can still hear him."

People often criticize her father, but Sadeghi says she doesn't react. She merely takes note so she can later tell relatives what she heard.

"People have the right to make judgments about political figures, so whatever I hear is not strange to me," she says.

Sadeghi then recounts a particular episode that has stuck in her mind.

She was riding in a long-distance taxi from Tehran to Karaj, about 30 kilometers west of the Iranian capital, when she heard one of the passengers attacking her father.

"[That person] started saying very bad insults about my father," she recalled. "He said that [my father] was once detained in France with two sacks of gold, adding that his wife was also with him.

"Those moments were hard on me. But I wanted to laugh at the image of my mother carrying a sack of gold," Sadeghi said. "[My father] wasn't a thief. He didn't have any hidden wealth.

"My father ordered the [execution] of [former Prime Minister Amir Abbas] Hoveyda. He went to Kurdistan (where Khalkhali ordered the execution of many Kurds)," Sadehi said. "All of this happened, but he didn't steal." 

Khalkhali presided over the brief trial of Hoveyda, who served as prime minister under the shah for more than a decade. Moments after being sentenced to death, Hoveyda was taken outside and shot in the back of the head. Khalkhali then returned to the courtroom and announced that the sentence had been carried out.

The New Haven-based Iran Human Rights Documents Center reports that Khalkhali was proud to have been present at Hoveyda's execution and had kept the pistol as a memento.

She said that Khalkhali, who had become a supporter of the reformist movement, convinced her in 1997 to vote for reformist presidential candidate Mohammad Khatami, who won the election and served as Iran's fifth president from 1997 until 2005.

The interviewer, who says she is a friend of Sadeghi, rarely challenges her. At one point, she asks Sadeghi if she misses her father.

"It's a tough question. Is there anyone who doesn't love his or her parents?" Sadeghi asks.

Sadeghi's interview has been criticized by some as a dubious effort to humanize a monster.

"I wish Fatemeh Sadeghi had continued her silence regarding her father," wrote exiled Iranian journalist Arash Bahmani on Twitter.

The Iranian blogger who goes by the name Zeitoun commented on Faebook: "Why didn't Fatemeh Sadeghi say: 'Although Khalkhali was my father and I love him, he did bad things to people -- many bad things.' Why didn't she say that?"

About the author:

Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at

Copyright (c) 2017 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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