Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, today called a halt to any further executions and stopped the trial of former Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda pending new regulations on such proceedings.
It was made clear that Khomeini's action was in response to outcries at home and abroad over the secret trials and executions of 60-odd persons accused of torture and various other crimes under the overturned government of the shah. Also included in that number were about a dozen men convicted of homosexual rape. The exact numbers are uncertain.
A Khomeini aide said the leader's decision followed a meeting last night in the holy city of Qom, where the ayatollah is in residence, and Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, who came from Tehran with two other Cabinet members.
Bazargan had publicly denounced the executions as "irreligious, inhuman and a disgrace to the country and the revolution" in a speech Wednesday. This was nevertheless followed by announcement that Hoveyda had been placed on trial by a revolutionary court in Tehran and yet another execution in Qom at 2 a.m. this morning.
Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the controversial director of national radio and television and a close Khomeini aide, said today the Hoveyda trial had been started against the government's will. He said the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists would be allowed to attend the trial and that the shah's prime minister of 13 years would have the right to counsel.
Ghotbzadeh said the revolutionary courts that have sprung up all over the country have turned into a problem and need to be placed under central control. He nevertheless defneded their role. When asked what their legal basis was, he replied: "The revolution."
Khomeini did not mention Hoveyda's trial directly, but in a radio broadcast he ordered all trials by revolutionary courts in Tehran to halt until procedures are established. He said trials elsewhere in the country could continue but that executions were barred until they are reviewed by the ruling Revolutionary Council.
Khomeini said he was appointing a committee under the Revolutionary Council to set out guidelines for trials and executions. Of those whose trials were completed, only one person is known to have escaped execution.
Khomeini said the revolutionary courts should henceforth confine themselves to "trying people for counterrevolutionary acts." He said that sex offenders should be tried by regular courts.
The ayatollah said he was speaking "in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate."
Ghotbzadeh said what had bothered him and other government members was not the executions themselves, but the way they were carried out. From now on, he said, the trials should be conducted before public witnesses, the accused should be allowed defense attorneys and the judgments should be based on the actual court interrogations.
He stressed, however, that "those executed so far committed unbelievable crimes." He said that French political leaders in particular who had been pleading in Hoveyda's behalf have ignored the "13 years of massacres" that he presided over. Ghotbzadeh said Hoveyda's trial would resume in a few days.
"Let's face it," he said. "There is not an Iranian who is displeased by these executions. No one expected that there would be no executions. There were 65,000 people killed last year in this country. The world will be astonished by the past crimes when we reveal them."
He said the revolution was caught between attachment to human rights and a need to grant speedy satisfaction to the people's demand for retribution.
"They considered the form not important," he said, and the leadership did not wish to get bogged down in legal procedures that might have taken years. But, he said, there has now been enough of the summary justice of the revolutionary courts.
Ghotbzadeh spoke after a rally on his behalf by about 100,000 persons in front of his radio and television headquarters. A majority of the demonstrators appeared to be women in chadors, the seamless black cloths that religious Iranian women wrap around their heads, faces and bodies.
It was called a counter demonstration against the thousands of Tehran women who have participated in protests against obligatory wearing of the chador. A large group mobbed Ghotbzadeh a few days ago, accusing him of instituting a reign of terror among women at the state television. Some women chanted "death to Ghotbzadeh." It was even announced that one woman had tried to assassinate him, an allegation that now appears questionable.
Ghotbzadeh told the veiled women today that they had overthrown the shah with the chador, which became a symbol of political opposition and rejection of the breakneck attempt to Westernize Iran.
He carefully avoided any suggestion that the chador would be obligatory. Later, he told the press conference that Khomeini had been misunderstood on that point, and he offered a compromise for women who appear on state television. He said they would not have to wear chadors but would be required to wear scarves folded in the traditional way to hide all the hair and the head, except for the oval of the face.
Ghotbzadeh described as "absurd" official statements yesterday that Iran plans to institute censorship of foreign television news footage. He said the foreign and Iranian press would continue to be free even to make errors.
But he hinted that there may be government challenges over staffing of Iranian papers. "Most of the people" on the papers, he said, "wrote for the old regime" and "were paid for their work by the regime -- you'll see they are not so honest as they say."
Ghotbzadeh was asked what he thought of Deputy Prime Minister Amir Entezam's statement yesterday that American women's rights activist Kate Millet would be expelled for her part in women's demonstrations here. Ghotbzadeh said that Entezam was just "makeing a suggestion" but added that he thought she should spread "her ideas and ideals elsewhere."
Earlier in the day. Millet held an impromptu press conference of her own outside her hotel. The management refused to let her hold it inside.
"As far as I'm concerned," she said. "I haven't been expelled. Governments are required to inform you of these things, not announce them at press conferences... I still have much to do here. I'm learning so much from my sisters."