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In Kabul, Judge Sentences 4 To Death In Mob Killing Of Woman


In Kabul, Afghanistan, an unusual televised trial has ended today with rare guilty verdicts and some harsh sentences handed out for the mob killing of a young Afghan woman back in March. The brutal death of a woman named Farkhunda was captured on video. The video went viral worldwide and prompted an unprecedented public outcry by Afghans, who've been fed up with violence against women in the country. Four men have been sentenced to death. Eight people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, while 18 others were found innocent and sent free. Let's get the latest now from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is in Kabul. Hi, Soraya.


GREENE: Could you just first remind us about this young woman's murder back in March?

NELSON: Well, Farkhunda was a 27-year-old woman who was killed after she accused a local mullah of acting inappropriately. Basically, what happened is she had gone to see the mullah with a friend who wanted to have some discussions or to get a talisman for some problems she was having. And Farkhunda felt that there were inappropriate things going on at the mosque. In fact, testimony came out about condoms and Viagra and other items found inside that suggested there was untoward behavior going on. And so what happened is the mullah sought revenge. When Farkhunda came back to complain again the following day, a mob was incited to attack her. They were told that she had burned pages of the Quran. And they kept this up. I mean, they used stones and boards and just beat her to - with - I mean, until she was dead and then burned her body and threw it into the river after it was done.

GREENE: Brutal images that were seen around the world, I know. So this mullah and others, Soraya, go on trial. How did the trial play out?

NELSON: Well, the weeklong trial involved 49 defendants. We're talking about 30 civilians, 19 police officers. And it was the civilians who were convicted today and sentenced today, eight who received 16-year prison terms, four who were sentenced to death, as you mentioned, and the rest were set free. And one of those who was sentenced to death was the mullah, the one who instigated all this.

GREENE: And what's been the reaction so far to both this trial and these sentences?

NELSON: Well, there's one activist. She's been getting death threats, but she's been very eager to have her voice out. So we won't identify her, but we did talk to her. She's a university student who is one of the few dozen women who carried Farkhunda's coffin to the graveyard, which is something that's never done by women here because they are supposed to stay in the home and mourn rather than show up at the funeral. But it just shows how important justice is for many Afghans in this case. And this is what she had to say about the trial.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: It's making me hopeful. And it's making me think that all the work that we did, all the protests that we did, is finally reaching something and - because this is the first time ever that a mullah is being executed in Afghanistan or people who were involved in a case of murdering a woman - because we had so many cases of violence against women and nobody ever paid attention.

NELSON: Well, what's going to be interesting is to see how the mullahs react. They've been very much against these protests that have been taking place in favor of Farkhunda. And they take this very personally, and they've been condemning those who take part. And so they're not going to be happy about one of their own being sentenced to death.

GREENE: Well, I know you'll be looking for those types of reactions. But just listening to her voice there, Soraya, I mean, it sounds like this is an important moment in Afghanistan.

NELSON: Absolutely. I mean, the fact that this was a televised trial, that justice was so swift, that a mullah would be sentenced to death, as she said. These are unheard of things here in a country where violence against women unfortunately goes on for a long time. But the activist also mentioned that if, in fact, on appeal these sentences are reversed, it could actually signal people who feel it's OK to strike or kill women to empower them to go back out and do so.

GREENE: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul. Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.