Eleven Afghan policemen were Tuesday sentenced to one year in prison for failing to protect a woman who was lynched by a mob after being falsely accused of blasphemy, following a landmark fast-track trial.
Farkhunda, 27, was savagely beaten and her body was set ablaze in broad daylight on March 19, triggering protests around the country and drawing global attention to the treatment of Afghan women.
Tuesday’s verdict comes after four Afghan men were sentenced to death and eight others were handed 16-year jail terms earlier this month after a three-day trial broadcast live on national television.
“You are sentenced… for negligence of duty to one year in prison,” Judge Safiullah Mojaddidi told the 11 defendants, including senior officers, while eight other policemen were found not guilty.
“This verdict is not final and the defendants have the right to appeal,” the Kabul primary court judge added.
Farkhunda was attacked on the banks of the Kabul River after an amulet seller, whom she had reportedly castigated for peddling superstition, falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Koran.
Forty-nine people were arrested, including 19 police officers, some of whom were shown standing by and doing nothing to stop the mob in cellphone videos recorded by bystanders.
The quick trial drew some praise in a country where where female victims of violence often have little legal recourse, but also prompted concerns over whether due process had been followed as many of the accused did not appear to have lawyers.
Human Rights Watch said after the death sentences were awarded on May 6 that the speeds of the trial suggested the government “wants a quick and dirty process to get this case out of the headlines and move on — rather than real justice”.
– ‘We just want justice’ –
“A lot of us are martyred and a lot of us are wounded everyday,” Saleh Mohammad, one of the policemen jailed Tuesday, said before the hearing during which many of the defendants pleaded for leniency.
“We just want justice,” Mohammad told the court.
Farkhunda’s family said after the May 6 verdict that they were not happy with the large number of acquittals in a murder caught on cellphone cameras and circulated on social media.
“We have nothing more to say about this new verdict. We have already expressed our concern about the whole process,” Farkhunda’s brother Mujibullah told AFP following Tuesday’s judgement.
Farkhunda’s case become a symbol of the endemic violence that women face in Afghanistan, despite reforms since the hardline Taliban regime fell in 2001.
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.
Last October five Afghan men were hanged over a gang rape that sparked a national outcry, though the United Nations and human rights groups called for President Ashraf Ghani to stay the executions.
A recent UN report urged the government to strengthen access to justice for female victims of violence.
Most cases of violence against women are settled through mediation, highlighting perceived deficiencies in the Afghan criminal justice system including allegations of corruption and abuse of power, the report said.