Five of seven men convicted of raping and robbing appear at a court in Kabul on September 7, 2014.

***Update: The five men convicted in a badly flawed trial following the gang rape of four women in Paghman district were hanged on the afternoon of October 8, 2014 at Kabul’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison.

(New York) – President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan should delay the execution of five men convicted in a badly flawed trial following the gang rape of four women in Paghman district, near Kabul, Human Rights Watch said today. The men, who were convicted of robbery and extramarital sex (zina), are scheduled to be executed on October 8, 2014.

President Ghani should order an independent review of the handling of the case by the government, including the police and the prosecutor’s office.

“President Ghani has called for a review of Afghan’s justice system, but he has an immediate opportunity to stop a grave miscarriage of justice,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The horrendous due process violations in the Paghman trial have only worsened the injustices of this terrible crime.”

On August 23, a group of men in police uniforms, armed with assault rifles, stopped two cars in Paghman district outside Kabul, took money and jewelry from the passengers, and then raped four of the women passengers, one of whom was pregnant.

The case against the accused has been riddled with serious problems from the start, beginning with public statements from then-President Hamid Karzai’s office urging speedy death sentences before the trial had taken place. Numerous due process violations – including a manipulated lineup for identification, allegations of coerced confessions, the provision of mere days for the defense to prepare its case, and a cursory trial that included no real presentation of evidence – severely undermined the suspects’ rights to a fair trial and a hearing by an independent court.

The court seemed determined to hand down the death penalty in the case, applying a law allowing a death sentence even though the penalty does not appear to apply in the case. Very few crimes are eligible for capital punishment under Afghan law.

International human rights treaties to which Afghanistan is a party only allow the death penalty for the most serious crimes when there is scrupulous adherence to fair trial standards. This case fell far short of those international standards.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and irreversible punishment. A majority of countries have abolished the practice. On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The case also highlights the dangers for female victims of sexual violence, who already face severe social stigma in Afghanistan. In one example, police investigators allowed journalists to watch the four victims identify the alleged attackers in a lineup on September 3, putting the victims at risk in a manner that may deter future victims of sexual assault from coming forward.

“The Paghman case demonstrates how far Afghanistan is from providing criminal suspects a fair trial,” Kine said. “The mishandling of this case should spur President Ghani to impose an immediate moratorium on executions, at least until Afghanistan conducts trials that meet international standards.”