Shah Marai / AFP / Getty Images

Lynching of woman in Kabul sparks outrage

Student and rights groups prepare a week of protests in response to the brutal killing of woman in the Afghan capital

The horrific, public killing of a woman in the center of Kabul on Thursday has galvanized university students and rights groups, who planning are planning a week of protests over the lynching.

"Farkhunda’s brutal killing has catapulted the city and many more Afghans in the rest of the country," said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament representing Kabul province and a longtime women’s rights activist.

"This is not a male or female issue, this is a human issue and we will not stop until the killers are brought to justice."

Farkhunda, who is known by one name and is believed to be 27 years old, was accused Thursday afternoon by workers at the famous Shah-do-Shamshira shrine in Kabul of burning pages of the Quran.

Videos taken by eyewitnesses from the scene show the woman being kicked and stomped on by an angry mob, dragged to the banks of the Kabul River, and set on fire.

At one point in a video, Farkhunda, whose face is covered in blood, can be heard calling out and saying that she didn’t burn the Quran, but a few men push her back down to the ground and others continue beating her. 

I can’t sleep, I can’t eat since seeing the bloody videos and photos of Farkhunda. I am losing my mind and I want to see justice served.

Ejaz Malikzada, 20

university student

The incident has brought to the forefront concerns about widespread lawlessness in Kabul, which is considered by Afghans to be the most progressive and educated part of the country.

"The fact that this can happen in broad daylight and with dozens of people taking part and hundreds more watching is shocking," said Barakzai.

Photos and videos from the scene on Thursday show police present at the shrine but either unwilling or unable to stop the mob from attacking Farkhunda.

"No individual is allowed to make oneself a judge and use violence to punish others in degrading manners. Launching personal trials and choosing who to punish stands in clear contradiction to Sharia and Islamic justice," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement.

Since the attack, a woman has come forward saying she had a long conversation with Farkhunda and prayed in the shrine beside her a couple of hours before she was killed. The woman told a news reporter for Khaama Press that Farkhunda did not burn the Quran and that "the caretakers of the shrine went after Farkhunda first and pulled at her headscarf and her head became bare. Then they started with punches and kicks."

Afghan officials say 13 people, including eight police officers have been arrested in connection with the case, and Ghani, currently in the U.S. visiting President Barack Obama, has ordered an investigation into the incident by police as well as a committee of religious scholars.

Protesters called for justice at Farkhunda's funeral on Sunday, the same day Gen. Mohammad Zahir, Afghanistan's top criminal investigator, said that after reviewing the evidence, he had concluded that she was "totally innocent."

But there are those who defend the attack, including a deputy minister at the Ministry of Information and Culture, a spokesman for the Kabul police chief, a well known cleric and a member of the Afghan senate, who who have publicly defended Farkhunda’s killers.

"What they are saying about this case is not according to Islam or [Afghan] law. If they really believe that the killing is justified, then we have a real problem. If they didn’t have enough information about the incident, then they need to apologize and take back what they have said," said Barakzai, who is working with civil society groups to organize marches and gatherings for Tuesday.

Shock and grief

Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a non-governmental organization operating women’s shelters and offering legal services, said the Afghan government doesn’t have a good track record of following through on investigations concerning violence against women or completely carrying out punishments handed down by the courts.

“If the Afghan government upholds the rule of law, this will send the message to the entire country that people can’t take the law into their own hands. But if the government doesn’t follow through, this could make things worse, especially for women’s security,” Naderi said.

Thousands of Afghans immediately took to social media to express their grief over the incident and to prod government officials to follow through on the investigations.

"I can’t sleep, I can’t eat since seeing the bloody videos and photos of Farkhunda. I am losing my mind, and I want to see justice served," said 20-year-old Ejaz Malikzada, a resident of Kabul who has started a Facebook page called Justice for Farkhunda.

He and other university students are organizing a protest for Monday in front of the Shah-do Shamshira shrine.

"We will demand that the street the shrine is on be renamed Innocent Farkhunda Street because we don’t want anyone to forget this brutal killing, and we want give her back her dignity," said Malikzada, a senior at the American University of Afghanistan.

"I can’t believe that such a barbaric crime took place in Kabul, especially with so many educated people here now," he said, adding, "I worry that one day one of my sisters or even I could be the victim of an angry mob." 

Al Jazeera

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