If the brutal murder of 27-year-old Farkhunda symbolized the endemic violence that women face in Afghanistan, women right’s activists say the subsequent trial epitomized the lack of justice that is often just as common.
On Tuesday, an Afghan judge sentenced 11 policemen to one year in prison for failing to protect Farkhunda -- she used a single name -- from a violent mob in March. The judge released another eight policemen for lack of evidence, reports The Associated Press.
The verdict deeply frustrated many ordinary Afghans who hoped the trial would mark a turning point in their country’s dismal record on women’s rights. But as The Guardian reports, the verdict was widely considered too lenient.
The verdict has exasperated Afghans who had hoped to see the government make political strides in defense of women’s rights. Instead, the case has become emblematic of the lack of legal protection for Afghan women, and of a justice system many say is prone to political meddling …
Ultimately, the trial has stymied hope that the brutality of Farkhunda’s murder would force the government to stand up for women’s rights.
The circumstances of Farkhunda’s death were particularly chilling. A mob attacked her after an amulet peddler falsely accused her of burning a Koran. Cell phone footage shows men beating her with wooden planks, running over her body with a car, and burning it on the banks of the Kabul River.
The trial of 49 people charged for their involvement in the mob killing – including 19 policemen – provided a major test for Afghan’s criminal justice system. Tuesday's verdict comes after four Afghan men were sentenced to death and eight others were handed 16-year jail terms earlier this month.
“Afghan justice was itself in the dock at the trial in Kabul of 11 policemen for failing to protect an Afghan woman who was beaten to death by a mob,” writes David Loyn, BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent. “And many both inside and outside the country believe it failed the test.”
Police complained during their hearing that they were ill equipped to handle the mob of hundreds that gathered outside the shrine where the attack occurred, reports The Los Angeles Times. Others said they did not receive word of the attack until much later.
News of the attack sparked demonstrations in Afghanistan and reverberated around the world. Small ongoing protests in Kabul have been provocative enough, Reuters reports, to pose a growing challenge to President Ashraf Ghani and his new government.
Few Afghans openly challenge discriminatory customs and laws that have been perpetuated by the Taliban. But Leena Alam, who played Farkhunda in a recent public re-enactment of her murder that was part of a demonstration, told Reuters she remained hopeful Mr. Ghani would protect women by enacting much-needed reforms.
"Unfortunately I haven't seen him do anything yet," she said. "We have not seen any leader do anything for women in Afghanistan over the past 13 years."
A recent report from The United Nations urged the Afghan government to strengthen women’s access to justice. Most cases of violence against women are settled through family mediation because of perceived deficiencies in the criminal justice system, often seen as corrupt.