A judge in Afghanistan has reversed the death sentences of four men who took part in the brutal mob killing of a woman falsely accused of desecrating a Koran in March.
"I confirm that the decision was reversed because the defence prosecutor was not satisfied," said the Kabul judge, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not presiding over the case, the Telegraph reported.
As previously reported by the Gospel Herald, a mob of men attacked 27-year-old Farkhunda before tossing her off a Kabul bridge, setting her body on fire and throwing it in the river. At the time, a BBC report noted that a recorded video of the tragedy shows the woman, surrounded by a large group of men, standing with her face covered in blood. She is then pushed and falls over, and her beating continues with feet, rocks and boards. Finally, her body is shown engulfed in flames as onlookers chanted "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great." The report reveals that firefighters later came and put out the fire and took the mangled body.
According to Farkhunda's parents, the brutal killing was instigated by a local mullah of the Shah-e-Do Shamshera Mosque in the center of Kabul, who had been angered by Farkhunda's accusations that he was distributing false "tawiz," or pendant containing verses of the Quran thought to ward of evil.
"In order to save his job and life," the report notes, the mullah began shouting accusations that Farkhunda had burned the Quran. "We were asking the people to stop beating her and let us ask what religion she belongs to," one witness told TOLOnews. "But the people didn't listen to us and kept beating her."
The young woman's wrongful death sparked widespread outrage, triggering protests around the country. Amid public outcry, police arrested 49 people in connection with the attack, including 19 police officers, some of whom were shown standing by doing nothing to stop the lynching in cellphone videos recorded by bystanders.
In May, a court sentenced four men to death and eight others were given 16-year jail terms after a three-day trial broadcast live on national television.The sentencing was subsequently overturned on Wednesday following an appeal that was heard behind closed doors.
"The appeal court decided to reduce the sentence -- three of them got 20 years in prison and one 10 years," judge Nasir Murid, the head of the Kabul appeals court, told the Daily Star.
On Thursday, a number of activists and members of Farkhunda's family reacted angrily to the court's decision.
"We just heard through media that the appeal court in a secret session has reversed the decision. They didn't inform us. Whatever the decision is we will not accept it," Farkhunda's brother Mujibullah told the BBC.
He added, "It's not a court, it's just a show... The media should have been there, we should been there, the lawyers should have been there.
"It's a real theatre. The whole world laughs at the judicial system of Afghanistan. Do the judges have families, sisters, mothers - or not? Do they have a heart?"
He also accused the authorities of "a tyranny" against the family, who have been living in fear since the attack.
Kimberley Motley, an American lawyer in Afghanistan who represented Farkhunda's family at the first trial described the decision as "outrageous". She said: "It shows that the judges are not interested in following the rule of law in Afghanistan. I think it's horrendous that this case was conducted in private. The family were not told about it and afforded the right to be in court. It's extremely disappointing that they would come up with this decision in such a secret way. It will be really interesting to see the written rationale."