In Afghanistan, mourning a family member is never a private matter. But, for Mohammad Nader Malikzadah, grieving his murdered daughter, it has happened in front of an international audience.
Farkhunda, 27, was killed by a mob last week in front of the mosque where she worked as a religious teacher, falsely accused of burning pages from the Qu’ran. A crowd of men beat her, pulled her off a roof when she tried to escape, pelted her with wooden planks and ran her over with a car, before burning her dead body.
Videos circulating on social media showed the hour-long incident in detail, sparking global headlines and outrage.
Farkhunda’s family has been besieged for days as the case has grabbed the attention of local and international media. Throngs of relatives have lined up outside their house to pay condolences, as have officials, who are facing mounting criticism for allowing the attack to happen.
The attention has visibly drained the family, but it has also brought a big benefit; without it, they say, the truth about Farkhunda’s murder would never have come out.
“If there was no attention from the media, my family’s life would be in danger,” Malikzadah said on Monday.
The attack on Farkhunda outside Kabul’s Shah-Do Shamshira mosque was triggered by a mullah who shouted that she had burned pages of Islam’s holy book, igniting uproar among men at the scene.
Investigators have since denied that Farkhunda burned the Qu’ran, if she indeed burned anything at all.
Additionally, the Kabul police chief initially claimed Farkhunda was mentally ill, something the family denies.
“The police chief told me that he had told the media that she had mental problems, and that was why she had burned the Qu’ran. He said, ‘You have to confirm this’,” Malikzadah said.
Naeem Akbar, a distant cousin and close friend, said Farkhunda was healthy. “The past year, she kept to herself, but she was not ill,” he said.
Relatives said Farkhunda had memorised the Qu’ran, graduated from high school and had a great knack for maths.
Even for a city hardened by regular suicide attacks and indiscriminate bombings, the killing of Farkhunda shocked Kabul and stirred fear in many of its residents.
The incident has become a lightning rod for women’s rights activists, shocked that took place not in a rural province but in the capital, less than two kilometres from the presidential palace.
“It was a wake-up call for people of Kabul to see how much power a mullah has,” said Mariam Awizha Hotaki, a civil rights activist. Particularly alarming, she added, was that the perpetrators were not men from the conservative fringes of society.
“These are not the Taliban, these are not Islamic State,” she said. “These are people like my friends, who go to school in the city. It is shocking that people from the same background as us can commit such heinous acts.”
Women in the capital have closed ranks in a rarely seen united front. A rare sight unfolded at Farkhunda’s funeral on Sunday when dozens of women broke tradition and carried her coffin to its final resting place. Protests have continued since the funeral, with a gathering at the site of the killing on Monday and a demonstration planned for the front of supreme court on Tuesday.
Hotaki said women were reacting so strongly because, although they were accustomed to everyday harassment, an attack like this was inconceivable. “How much repressed anger and hatred must be involved for them to act like that, and feel like they have the power over a woman like that?” she said.
The killing has undermined the already thin trust in the police. Phone recordings of the attack revealed that several police officers stood by while it unfolded.
President Ashraf Ghani told reporters on Saturday that the incident showed that Afghan police officers lack capabilities in upholding civilian law and order because they are preoccupied with fighting a war.
“The heinous attack,” Ghani said, “has no place in a country like ours. We are not going to allow mob justice.”
Fawzia Koofi, a female parliamentarian who is part of an 11-person commission formed by the president to investigate the incident, said that seeing this tragedy befall an innocent woman had traumatised her teenage daughters.
“The first thought that came to my mind was: ‘Is this going to be the future for girls in Afghanistan?’” Koofi said. She blamed the government and the police for not preventing the attack.
“If they can assign 20-30 security guards to one politician, how come they can’t provide 20-30 police officers to protect a woman in danger of being killed by these animals,” she said.
Public outcry has made the murder a political matter. On Monday, outside a funeral service for Farkhunda at a mosque in northern Kabul, where security measures resembled those of a state funeral, high-ranking officials swarmed in and out of black SUVs, including the minister of interior and Kabul’s chief of police.
“I’m here to condemn what happened to our sister,” said Bakhtar Siawash, a 30-year-old MP and former television presenter. “It was not an attack on a woman, it was an attack on a human being”, he said.
Not everyone agrees with the young MP that gender was not a factor in the attack.
“Afghan women are so much at risk of anything,” said Koofi. “If she was a man, could they still do this to her? Of course not.”
For Farkhunda’s family, a three-hour service to be held on Tuesday will bring another day of mourning in a frenzy that has yet to slow down. For now, though, the attention bolsters them somewhat.
Her brother Najibullah said: “I am not only the brother of Farkhunda. I now have millions of brothers and sisters.” He had just decided to take a new last name: Farkhunda.