7 May 2015

Farkhunda Malikzada murder: ‘The day Kabul changed’

The trial of four men suspected of murdering a woman falsely accused of burning the Koran, has shown the suffering still faced by Afghan women, Nelufar Hedayat writes.

Fatana Gailani, founder of the Afghan’s Women Council, says the brutal mob lynching of 27 year old Farkhunda Malikzada was a moment for her country to realise some of the horrors of being a women in Afghanistan.

“There are thousands of ways women’s rights suffer because the government is so weak and inadequate here and corruption is rife,” she said.

“The things that she went through are horrors that Kabul had not seen before. We cannot have this repeated. We cannot have another Farkhunda. This cannot become normal. The cycle must be broken.”

Witnesses said that after being falsely accused of having burned a copy of the Kuran, Farkhunda was beaten by a mob, run over by a car and set on fire before her body was thrown into the Kabul river earlier this year.

Some 49 people were convicted of her death including 19 police officers who reportedly did little to stop Farkhunda’s murder and some, according to mobile phone footage presented in court, were seen participating in her lynching. The police officers will be sentenced on Sunday.

Afghanistan has in the past been labelled the most dangerous place to be a women and activists like Ms Gailani are often targets of misogynists and Islamist who are against the women’s rights movement.

Amnesty International has pointed to the marked increase of attacks on women’s rights activists and anyone who aligned themselves with their cause.

Gailani said a representative from the Afghan Women’s Council was present each day of the trial to make sure that women were not “invisible”, as is often the case in public spaces in the deeply conservative country.

The day Kabul changed

After Farkhunda’s death, several protests in Kabul saw hundreds of women paint their faces red, hold placards and condemn the government’s lack of action on women’s rights. Gailani was present in many of the protests, one by a group of male artists who recreated the attack on the streets of Kabul.

“With a broken leg for five hours I stood to protest once.

“There were a lot of men at the protests. That day, Kabul was not the same Kabul,” Gailani says.

“The men were there with us screaming and chanting with us. Men and women, usually always divided in Afghan society, and I was looking around in the rain with us all together calling for justice and fair trial and an end to brutality against women,” she added.

But there were women and men who were screaming at us, saying “let’s burn these women too”.

Guilty verdict

It only took four days for the court to sentence the quartet to death. One of the men found guilty of Farkhunda’s murder was the Mullah (religious leader) who she had argued with for selling amulets that he said could cure the sick.

In a country battling the Taliban – who even today has mounted a large scale offensive in the northern Provence capital of Kunduz which forced thousands to flee their homes – the defence of the rights of women has often been less of a priority.

Kimberley Motley was the lawyer representing Farkhunda’s family until Tuesday, when the family released her as their representative. They now have no representation.

Since 2008, Ms Motley has worked on many high profile cases in Afghanistan including that of Gulnaz, a woman forced to marry her rapist. “I think this case has a huge impact for women who are victims of violence and frankly a global impact. In addition to those who have been convicted and sentenced for murder, if at least some of the police officers are found guilty of failing to render assistance,” she said. “It can potentially show accountability to the wider community of the police and the community’s duty to protect women and that failure to do so many have criminal consequences.”

The verdict on the police officers due on Sunday could be a watershed for the Afghan judicial system, and those fighting for the rights of women across the country.