The brutal Killing of Farkhunda Malikzada

The brutal  Killing of Farkhunda Malikzada

Farkhunda Malikzada[1] (Persian: فرخنده) was a 27-year-old Afghan woman who was publicly slain by a mob in Kabul on March 19, 2015. A large crowd formed in the streets around Farkhunda when accusers began yelling, announcing her alleged crimes to the public. They claimed that she had burned the Quran, and for that, her accusers announced that she must pay the ultimate price.

Police initially tried to protect Farkhunda and disperse the crowd, but were overwhelmed by the mob’s numbers and fury.

The mob grabbed Farkhunda, pulled her hair, hit her, spit at her, pushed her to the ground, stomped on her body, kicked her in the head, and ripped the veil from her face. Police, seeing the urgency of the situation, attempted to remove her from the crowds by climbing atop a shop roof. Farkhunda lost her balance while fighting to stay conscious, and slipped down the rooftop and back into the crowd.

She was brutally and mercilessly beaten into unconsciousness; seeing Farkhunda now motionless, the crowd dragged her into the street and ran over her body with a car, dragging her some 300 feet. They then set her corpse on fire and watched her body burn. They used their own clothing articles (e.g. scarves and hats) to keep the fire alight, because her own clothing and body were so bloodied that they would not catch alight.

She was murdered after allegedly arguing with a mullah who falsely accused her of burning the Quran, the Quran. Police investigations revealed that she had not burned anything.[2] Her murder led to 49 arrests;[3] three adult men received twenty year prison sentences, eight other adult males received sixteen year sentences, a minor received a ten year sentence, and eleven police officers received one year prison terms for failing to protect Farkhunda.[4] Her murder and the subsequent protests served to draw attention to women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Background

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Farkhunda: The making of a martyr – BBC Newsnight

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Farkhunda was an observant Muslim who wore a veil (hijab). At the time of the attack, she had just finished a degree in religious studies and was preparing to take a teaching post.[5] Her name means “auspicious” and “jubilation”.[6]

The attack

In a still frame from a video captured and widely disseminated on social media and in the news, a bloodied Farkhunda appears to plead with her attackers before she is knocked down.

Farkhunda had previously been arguing with a mullah named Zainuddin, in front of a mosque where she worked as a religious teacher,[2] about his practice of selling charms at the Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque, the Shrine of the King of Two Swords,[7] a religious shrine in Kabul.[8] During this argument, Zainuddin reportedly accused her of burning the Quran. She responded

“I am a Muslim, and Muslims do not burn the Quran!”[9]

According to eyewitnesses, hundreds of angry civilians flocked to the mosque upon overhearing the mullah’s accusation. They dragged out Farkhunda and started to beat her.[5] She was thrown from a roof, run over by a car, and beaten with sticks and stones outside the mosque. The mob then set her body alight and dumped it in the Kabul River while police allegedly looked on.[8][10] Farkhunda’s parents said the killing was instigated by the mullah with whom Farkhunda had been talking, who, according to Tolo News, began loudly accusing her of burning the Quran “in order to save his job and life.”[11] An eyewitness said that the mob was chanting anti-American and anti-democratic slogans while beating Farkhunda.[12]

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The Killing of Farkhunda

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Reactions

Public reaction in Afghanistan

A number of prominent public officials turned to Facebook immediately after the death to endorse the murder. The official spokesman for the Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai, for instance, wrote that Farkhunda “thought, like several other unbelievers, that this kind of action and insult will get them U.S. or European citizenship. But before reaching their target, they lost their life.” The Deputy Minister for Culture and Information Simin Ghazal Hasanzada also approved the execution of a woman “working for the infidels.” Zalmai Zabuli, chief of the complaints commission of the upper house of parliament, posted a picture of Farkhunda with this message: “This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghans want only Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy, and spies.” [13]

After it was revealed that she did not burn the Quran, the public reaction in Afghanistan turned to shock and anger. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Kabul on 23 March protesting her brutal death. Protesters marched from where the attack began to where Farkhunda was thrown in the river. A number of women on the march wore masks of her bloodied face while others condemned the government for failing to bring security to Afghanistan. Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament representing Kabul Province and a longtime women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera that her killing had triggered the city and the rest of the country to think about women’s rights.[10] She said: “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.”[10] Roshan Siren, a former member of parliament, said that the murder highlights violence against women in the country, and has become a rallying point for a younger generation of women to campaign for “the protection and progress of women.”[14]

The woman’s father complained that police could have done more to save Farkhunda.[8]

Protests

On March 23, hundreds of women protested the attack, demanding that the government prosecute those responsible for Farkhunda’s death.[8] The protest was organized by Solidarity Party of Afghanistan and residents of Kabul.[15] Farkhunda’s death has also become a rallying point for women’s rights activists in Afghanistan.[16] On March 24, thousands of people protested the attack in front of the Afghan Ministry of Justice in Kabul.[17]

Official response in Afghanistan

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation into the incident and, in a statement released by his office, condemned the “act of extreme violence”.[18] He described the killing as “heinous”.[11] He also said that Farkhunda’s death revealed that Afghanistan’s police were too focused on the Taliban insurgency in the country and not focused enough on local policing.[19]

Nine men who were seen in the video of Farkhunda’s murder on social media were subsequently detained.[20] The Interior Ministry later reported that 28 people were arrested and 13 police officers suspended as part of investigations. Hashmat Stanikzai, a cleric who publicly endorsed the murder, was sacked over comments that he made on social media supporting Farkhunda’s killers.[5]

The Afghanistan Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs announced that it found no evidence that Farkhunda had burned the Quran.[11]

International reaction

The European Union condemned the attack. A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that “[t]he killing of Ms Farkhunda… is a tragic reminder of dangers women face from false accusations and the lack of justice in Afghanistan.” She added, “We all hope that [those] responsible can be brought to justice.”[5] The United States also condemned the murder, with a statement from its embassy in Kabul calling for “those responsible to be brought to justice so such heinous acts will never occur again”.[21]

Global Times China columnist Farman Nawaz wrote “Choosing rulers through the ballot box is a positive sign for the country, but the survival, and even growth, of extremist mentality even after suffering from the barbarism of extremist groups reflects a critical failure by Afghan political parties”.[22] Afghan American historian Ali A Olomi argued that Farkhunda’s murder demonstrated the endurance of an underlying culture of violence and devaluation of human life that comes out of generations of Afghans being raised during a war and facing oppression.[23]

Reaction from Islamic scholars

In Afghanistan

The day after the murder, certain imams and mullahs endorsed the killing during Friday prayer services in their mosques. One of them, the influential Maulavi Ayaz Niazi of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, warned the government that any attempt to arrest the men who had defended the Quran would lead to an uprising.[13][24]

After it was revealed she did not burn the Quran, senior Islamic scholars in Afghanistan expressed outrage over the incident. Ahmad Ali Jebreili, a member of Afghanistan’s Ulama Council set for administering Islamic law, condemned the attack, accusing it of contravening Islam.[18] Haji Noor Ahmad, a local cleric, said “People come and execute a person arbitrarily; this is totally prohibited and unlawful. However, some justified her killing and were met with public anger.”[25]

Abroad

Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, a prominent, conservative, Islamic scholar, expressed horror on his Facebook page and said “A sign of how truly civilized a nation is, is how it treats its women. May Allah restore the honor and respect that women deserve in our societies!”[26]

Yama Rasaw of the International Policy Digest blamed intolerance among Afghans and Muslims for the killing of Farkhunda.[27]

Funeral

On March 22, a number of women, dressed in black, carried Farkhunda’s coffin from an ambulance to a prayer ground and then to a graveyard. This was a marked departure from tradition, which holds that such funerals are typically only attended by men.[12]

Criminal cases

Of 49 suspects tried in the case, four men were sentenced to death for their roles in Farkhunda’s murder. The sentences were handed down by Judge Safiullah Mojadedi in Kabul on May 5, 2015. Eight other defendants were sentenced to 16 years in prison. The trial was noted for its unusual brevity, lasting just two days.[28] The verdict has been criticized because although some investigators believe a fortuneteller set the attacks on Farkhunda in motion, this person was found not guilty on appeal, and the shrine’s custodian had his death sentence commuted despite the fact that he originated the false charge that Farkhunda had burned the Koran.[29]

Three suspects in the murder were still at large at the time of the May 5 sentencing, according to Mojadedi.[30]

On May 19, eleven police officers were sentenced to one year in prison for failing to protect Farkhunda.[31]

On 2 July 2015, an appeals court overturned the death sentences for those convicted in the mob killing. Three of those had their sentences reduced to 20 years in jail, while the fourth was re-sentenced to 10 years prompting street protests and a debate on women’s rights.[32]

As of August 12, 2015 an examination of the outcome of the proceedings in the matter by a panel of lawyers appointed by Afghanistan’s president resulted in a planned recommendation to the Afghan Supreme Court that those accused in her death be retried.

See Sharia Law

See Women’s rights in Afghanistan

Women’s rights in Afghanistan

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