Wednesday, four men were convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Farkhunda, a 27-year old woman who was killed by a mob outside a Kabul shrine. Zain-ul Abedeen, one of the men sentenced to death, had had an existing dispute with Farkhunda over his selling amulets at the Shah-e Do-Shamshera shrine in central Kabul. Farkhunda, according to her family a long-time student of Islam, considered the good luck charms un-Islamic. According to the AP, she “regarded the amulet sellers as parasites and told women not to waste their money on them.”
The specific details of what occurred before the mob formed are murky, but several filmed Farkhunda’s assault and death on their cellphones after the amulet seller accused her of burning a Quran, a charge authorities say was spurious. The graphic videos show her surrounded, stomped, and beaten bloody, by a crowd of men. She was then run over by a car and set on fire, before being thrown in the Kabul River.
Her death and the outrage on display at her funeral — which drew hundreds and included a group of women insisting that they carry her coffin — seemed to focus global attention once again on the plight of women in Afghanistan.
The trial, which lasted only four days, also resulted in eight men being sentenced to 16 years in prison, and 18 found not guilty. The 19 police officers charged with dereliction in duty for failing to prevent or stop the attack will get their verdict Sunday. The men sentenced Wednesday have been granted the right to appeal.
Heather Barr, of Human Rights Watch, writes that despite hopes that the trial would serve as much-needed turning point for women in Afghanistan, the verdict “crushed many of those hopes.” She says that the speedy trial, which should have been a “wake-up call” instead highlights the fact that “shoddy due process is the norm in Afghanistan.”
Barr says that many of the defendants did not have legal counsel, confessions may have been coerced, and only brief video clips of the attack were examined despite a large number of videos and pictures posted to social media by those witnessing the attack. Human Rights Watch also criticized the sentencing as the group “opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, and its use is particularly troubling in circumstances such as these where due process protections are so weak.”
In addition, Barr says that the “trial is also troubling because only 12 people have been found responsible for participation in an attack in which the video footage shows dozens involved.”
The number of videos, and the brutality of the crime, made Farkhunda’s death high-profile; it was discussed the world over. But some say hundreds of similar deaths go unnoticed each year — especially in rural areas with few, if any, witnesses. The quick trial and questionable due process in the Farkhunda murder trial certainly dims the prospect of lasting change in Afghanistan. Swift justice may be satisfying in the individual case, but may not lead to changing the conditions — both societal and legal — that repeatedly lead to the violent deaths of women and scant justice for most of these crimes.