Death sentences in mob killing of Afghan woman overturned

Court acquits the pedlar at the shrine who allegedly incited the mob by falsely accusing the women of burning a Quran.

KABUL // Four men convicted of taking part in the mob killing of a woman outside a Kabul shrine had their death sentences commuted to jail terms on Thursday.

Three of the men convicted of the murder of Farkhunda Malikzada in March were instead given 20-year sentences, and the fourth was sentenced to 10 years, said appeals court judge Abdul Nasir Murid.

The court acquitted the pedlar at the shrine who allegedly incited the mob by falsely accusing Malikzada of burning a Quran, according to independent Tolo TV which reported the closed-door hearing on Wednesday.

Word of the court’s decision outraged Malikzada’s family, which has no legal representation in the case and had not been directly informed of the change in sentencing.

“The verdict of 20 years means freedom, it means they will be released. We want the earlier decision for the death penalty,” Malikzada’s brother Najibullah, 37, said.

Lawmakers and activists also criticised the decision, saying the court had bowed to the conservative religious establishment and failed to uphold the rule of law.

“This is against the constitution. The courts should be open to the public, and this closed-door hearing undermines the credibility of the sentences,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and women’s rights advocate.

“Farkhunda’s case does not just belong to her family anymore, it belongs to all the people of Afghanistan who need assurance that they can have confidence in the law, in the rule of law.”

The mob killing led to calls for reform of the judicial system — long plagued by corruption, partisanship and incompetence — and stronger protection for women from violence.

After the pedlar at the Shah-Du Shamshira shrine falsely accused Malikzada of burning a Quran, a mob attacked her as police watched. After punching, kicking and beating her with wooden planks, the crowd threw her from a roof, ran over her with a car and crushed her with a block of concrete. They then set her body alight on the bank of the Kabul River.

The attack was filmed by many in the mob, and the footage widely distributed on social media.

At the murder trial, the four men were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Charges against 18 others were dropped for lack of evidence, and eight men were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Of 19 policemen charged with dereliction of duty, eight were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and 11 were sentenced to one year in prison. Last month, the Appeals Court upheld a decision to release 37 defendants ahead of their appeals.

Human-rights activist Ramin Anwari said the government had given in to conservative clerics, many of whom had said the attack would have been justified if Malikzada had desecrated a Quran.* Associated Press