The trial of 49 suspects, including 19 police officers, on charges relating to the brutal mob killing of an Afghan woman began in the capital, Kabul, on Saturday.
The opening of the trial at Afghanistan’s primary court was broadcast live on nationwide television. The suspects all face charges relating to the 19 March killing of a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda.
A prosecutor read charges against 10 of the defendants, including assault, murder and encouraging others to participate in the assault. The policemen are charged with neglecting their duties and failing to prevent the attack, although some are suspected of actually participating.
Prosecutors have alleged that Farkhunda was beaten to death in a frenzied attack sparked by a bogus accusation that she had burned a copy of the Qur’an.
The killing shocked many Afghans, though some public and religious figures said it would have been justified if she in fact had damaged a copy of the Muslim holy book.
Mobile phone video of the assault circulated widely on social media. It showed Farkhunda – who, like many Afghans, went by only one name – being beaten, run over with a car and burned before her body was thrown into the Kabul river.
The incident sparked nationwide outrage and soul-searching, as well as a civil society movement to limit the power of clerics, strengthen the rule of law and improve women’s rights.
Safiullah Mojadedi, head of the primary court, called for senior officials, including the Kabul police chief and the interior ministry’s chief criminal investigator, to attend Sunday’s court session. He also ordered the arrest of another policeman who allegedly freed a suspect.
At least two of the accused told the court they had confessed under physical duress.
Afghanistan’s judicial system has long faced criticism for its inability to offer the majority of Afghans access to justice. especially are sidelined, despite constitutional guarantees of equality and protection from violence, a recent report by the United Nations concluded.
The attack on Farkhunda was widely seen as symptomatic of the general low regard for women in Afghan society, where violence against women often goes unpunished.