Eleven Afghan policemen jailed over Farkhunda mob killing

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Kabul: An Afghan judge has sentenced 11 policemen to one year in prison for failing to protect a woman killed by a mob in the capital Kabul, after she was falsely accused of burning a Koran. Judge Safiullah Mojadedi on Tuesday, 19 May, found the officers guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to prevent the killing of 28-year-old Farkhunda in March. Another eight policemen were released for lack of evidence. In total, 49 people have been charged over the death. The latest verdict contrasts with four Afghan men being sentenced to death and eight others being handed a 16-year jail term. The treatment of police in this case has immediately been condemned as too lenient.  

The judge took longer to consider his verdicts in the case of the police. And Afghan justice itself has been put in the spotlight in this case as never before. Forty-nine people were arrested, including 19 police officers, some of whom were shown standing by and doing nothing to stop the mob in cell phone videos recorded by bystanders. On May 6, the same court sentenced four Afghan men to death and eight others to 16 years in prison after a three-day trial broadcast live on national television. 

The trial drew praise for its fast-track nature but also prompted worry over its fairness, with Human Rights Watch saying it was “very concerned” over whether due process was followed as many of the accused did not appear to have lawyers. The failure of the court to ensure that defendants were represented, the swift verdicts for those who killed Farkhunda, and now the very light sentences imposed on some police officers, have not satisfied those who feel that justice has not been done. 

The victim Farkhunda’s family were not in court. “We have nothing more to say about this new verdict. We have already expressed our concern about the whole process,” her brother Mujibullah said. 

Farkhunda had argued with an amulet seller about his practice of peddling charms to women at the well-known Shah-Du-Shamshaira shrine, which is within walking distance of the presidential palace and Kabul’s main bazaar. The amulet seller is one of those sentenced to death earlier this month.

In the course of the argument Farkhunda was accused of burning the Koran and a crowd overheard and attacked her. In confession statements read in court, some of the accused admitted they had been drawn in by the claims. An official investigator has said there is no evidence she burned the Koran.

Farkhunda’s case has become a symbol of the endemic violence that women face in Afghanistan, despite reforms since the hardline Taliban regime fell in 2001. She was beaten to death before her body was driven over by a car, dragged through the streets and then set on fire before being thrown in a river. Some of the attackers recorded the brutal killing on their cell phones and footage was later uploaded to social media sites. Her killing triggered protests around Afghanistan and drew global attention to the treatment of Afghan women.

The backlash highlighted the angst of a post-Taliban generation in Afghanistan, where nearly two-thirds of the population is under 25, that is often torn between conservatism and modernity as the country rebuilds after decades of war.

Judge Safiullah Mojadedi told the 11 defendants, who included senior officers on Tuesday that “You are sentenced … for negligence of duty to one year in prison.” He added, “This verdict is not final and the defendants have the right to appeal.” Those who felt the one year jail term for the policemen was too lenient reacted with shock and anger on social media. 

One MP, Farkhunda Naderi, called it a symbolic verdict and said the wrong people were in the dock. She said that the Kabul police chief should have been put on trial. Farkhunda’s family had said after the May 6 verdict that they were not happy with the large number of acquittals in a murder caught on mobile phone cameras and circulated on social media.

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