Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, Iran's roving executioner who has condemned 176 persons to death in the last seven weeks on narcotics charges, today proudly displayed for diplomats, politicians and the press the results of his drug-busting campaign.
The rotund Moslem mullah said the campaign had wiped out about 85 to 90 percent of the drug trade and eliminated the Mafia in the country. He also charged that Princess Ashraf, twin sister of deposed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a key figure in the narcotics business.
Khalkhali made his bazarre presentation at an unused mosque in Qasr Prison, site of most of his campaign's executions, which have been carried out at the rule of about four a day. After showing his guests thousands of tons of seized drugs and confiscated goods ranging from opium pipes to washing machines and stoves, the self-proclaimed ayatollah held an open-air press conference, all the while licking an ice cream.
Although his estimates were probably subject to considerable exaggeration, he said the mosque contained 20 tons of opium and that 10 tons of other drugs had been seized. There was no way of checking the figures, but the scent of opium was overwhelming on entering the mosque.
About 100 one-kilo (2.2-pound) bags of herion were loosely stacked against a wall. The street value in the United States would run well above $100 million.
One table contained more than 500 pounds of hashish, worth as much as $1 million.
Everywhere there was opium. Some of it was in "Sticks" ready for smoking while most was in 25-pound or larger sacks of the unprocessed drug. Each bag would be worth about $160,000 retail in the United States.
The vast haul helped to explain why the price of opium on the illegal market here has shot up fivefold in the last couple of months. It also lent credence to claims of success for Khalkhali's campaign to end the drug trade in the country.
The drug traffic, like other evils in Iran, was blamed on Britain and the United States. One of the ayatollah's guards even said that opium and hashish were not Iranian drugs, ignoring centuries of opium poppy cultivation and historical records of Persians using hashish before Columbus discovered America.
Nevertheless, use of drugs or any of a number of other offenses classified as sins under the Islamic Republic are serious crimes that can lead to harsh punishment or execution.
Just this morning seven convicted drug pushers were executed by a firing squad shortly after dawn on one of the main streets in the former red-light district of Tehran. Khalkhali had convicted them last night in his revolutionary court, which sits at Qasr Prison when he is in Tehran.
Although public executions were long a tradition in Iran until the Shah outlawed them more than a decade ago, they were invariably carried out by hanging in a public square and not by simply shooting down convicts in a neighborhood where people live. Khalkhali said this morning's executions were meant as a lesson to drug smugglers still living in the area.
Last week in the southern city of Kerman, another type of execution was carried out by the revolutionary court.
Four persons, including two middleaged women, were stoned to death for sexual offenses. The victims were dressed in white cloth, buried up to their chests in the ground and pelted with rocks up to six inches in diameter. It reportedly took 15 minutes of stoning before the condemned died.
Khalkhali said today that he had not ordered the stoning but had no objections since such executions were mentioned in the Koran, the Moslem holy book.
"We approve anything in the Koran," he said. "What is the difference between killing by stone and by bullet?"
The cleric indicated that there were limits on his ability to curb the drug trade through execution.
"If we wanted to kill eveybody who had five grams of heroin, we'd have to kill 5,000 people, and this would be difficult," he told the press conference, smacking his lips over the ice cream. He said this in response to criticism that he had not acted swiftly or harshly enough.
His press spokesman rebutted a question on whether innocent persons may have been executed saying, "That's nonsense. They were all corrupt of the earth," a Koramic term often used in revolutionary Iran to justify executions.
Observers have noted that apart from Khalkhali's executions on morals charges, there has been an upsurge in capital punishment since shortly after the abortive American mission to rescue hostages at the U.S. Embassy in late April. The American plan called for assistance by Iranians on the ground, and it is felt that some of the victims may have been involved in the plan.
Since May 21, 294 persons have been executed, a rate of more than six a day.
Khalkhali, known as Iran's "Judge Blood," provoked outrage in the United States in April when he displayed at a press conference the bodies of Americans killed in the abortive hostage rescue mission.
Today, Khalkhali reiterated charges by the government that Princess Ashraf was involved in the drug trade. He gave details of her alleged key role in having drugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan flown into Iran during the monarchy.
"This was one of the things that Ashraf was doing, and you can say she did a royal job of it," the ayatollah said.
Now that he has allegedly broken the drug network, the Mafia is after two people, he said, "me and Ashraf." He has said, however, that he will get the Mafia instead.
Khalkhali gave no source for his information on Ashraf. The princess has repeatedly denied drug connections in the past.
The ayatollah invited diplomats, members of the newly elected parliament and clergymen to the event today. There was definite political overtones as his claque of supporters chanted, "Khalkhali, the champion, the prime minister of Iran." Parliament is scheduled to select a prime minister shortly.
Inside the mosque, visitors wandered among furniture, appliances, gaudy light fixtures, paintings and carpets confiscated from person executed. Elsewhere under the tiled dome there were tall piles of smuggled Winston cigarettes. In the middle, a Revolutionary Guard squatted atop a huge pile of Persian carpets, cradling an Israeli-designed Uzi submachine gun to protect the millions of dollars worth of booty.