Afghan women’s activist lynched by frenzied mob

Women's rights activists carry 27-year-old Farkhunda's coffin after she was punched, kicked, beaten and crushed to death. Picture: AP
Women's rights activists carry 27-year-old Farkhunda's coffin after she was punched, kicked, beaten and crushed to death. Picture: AP
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THE family of an Afghan woman killed by a frenzied mob in an attack that shocked the world with its brutality is living in isolation and fear as they wait for justice they believe will never come.

Since Farkhunda Malikzada, 27, was lynched by a mob in March, life has come to a standstill for those she left behind, said her father, 72-year-old Mohammad Nader Malikzada.

We are under such pressure. It is hell in this house

Mohammad Malikzada, father

“We cannot live a normal life, our children cannot go to school or college, we can’t even go shopping,” he said. “We are under such psychological pressure. It is hell in this house.”

His despair was compounded this month when Afghanistan’s Primary Court released 37 of the 49 people convicted of Farkhunda’s murder pending their appeals against sentences the family has said are too light.

After a peddler at a Kabul shrine falsely accused Farkhunda of burning a Koran, a mob attacked her as police watched. After punching, kicking and beating her with wooden planks, the crowd threw her from a roof, ran over her with a car and crushed her with a block of concrete. They then set her body alight on the bank of the Kabul River.

Footage of the attack captured on mobile phones circulated online, and the killing fuelled widespread outrage.

Protesters demanding women’s rights and judicial reform carried posters showing Farkhunda’s bloody face and held candlelight vigils.

Her killing was re-enacted outside a shrine 40 days after her death by activists determined to keep her memory alive. But in the months since then, Farkhunda’s family – elderly parents and most of her seven sisters and two brothers, their wives and children – say they have been neglected by those who sought to use her name to further their own interests.

Fearing violence, kidnapping, or retribution from police or members of the mob who have been released, they rarely leave the house.

The adults don’t go to work, and the children no longer go to school or university. “What will happen if the children cannot go to school? Will they be illiterate?” said Najibullah, Farkhunda’s 37-year-old brother.

Farkhunda’s mother Bibi Hajira, said she feels their lives are in constant danger. “We want to see justice and we want to be moved to a safe place,” she said. “I don’t have power or money to fight for it.”

In the days after Farkhunda’s murder, family members met First Lady Rula Ghani, who said the “horrible, barbaric tragedy” had highlighted how violent Afghan society has become after more than 30 years of war.

At the murder trial, four people were found guilty and sentenced to death. Charges against 18 men were dropped for lack of evidence, and eight others were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Of 19 policemen charged with dereliction of duty, eight were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and 11 were sentenced to one year in prison. This month, the Appeals Court upheld a decision to release 37 defendants ahead of their appeals.

“These decisions are completely unacceptable,” said Mohammad. “Anyone who witnessed this brutal killing of an innocent girl and stood by and did nothing, they are also guilty,” he said. “All these people have been freed; others who were clearly involved have not been arrested.”

The Malikzada family has meanwhile retreated into the agony of their loss. “We don’t eat, we don’t sleep, we cry,” said Mohammad.

Fatana Gailani, founder of the Afghan’s Women Council, says the lynching was a moment for her country to realise some of the horrors of being a woman in Afghanistan.