An Afghan court has watched video of a mob kicking a woman to death, as 49 men are tried over the lynching that prompted outrage in the country and across the world.
The judge asked prosecutors on the second day of the trial to play footage, shot with mobile phone cameras, of the crowd savagely beating the 27-year-old, named Farkhunda, after she was accused of burning pages from a Qur’an.
Nineteen police officers are among the men charged over the killing in broad daylight. They are accused of standing by and allowing the mob to overwhelm the victim, although some are suspected of dealing blows themselves.
The attack proved a polarising incident in , a deeply conservative Muslim country, with some saying it was a defence of Islam and others outraged at the viciousness of the attack.
Video footage that spread online after the attack 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 brutal killing, which unfolded over the course of an hour, 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. The Qur’an is regarded as the word of God, as revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
However, a subsequent investigation cleared Farkhunda of the allegation, which was made by a mullah outside Shah-Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul. Farkhunda, a religious teacher, . He shouted that she had burned pages from the Qur’an, infuriating men nearby who proceeded to beat Farkhunda to death.
, the Afghan capital, is being broadcast live on nationwide television. The accused face charges including assault, murder and encouraging others to join in the attack. Police officers are charged with neglecting their duties by failing to prevent the killing.
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 on Saturday that they had confessed under physical duress.
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. Protests decrying violence against women have since sprung up in Kabul, including one in the past week that re-enacted the attack.
Afghanistan’s judicial system has long faced criticism for its inability to offer the majority of Afghans access to justice. Women especially are sidelined, despite constitutional guarantees of equality and protection from violence, a recent report by the UN concluded.
The attack on Farkhunda was widely seen as symptomatic of the general low regard for women in Afghan society, where violence against them often goes unpunished.