I still feel sick when I think of Farkhunda Malikzada’s murder four years ago, on March 19, 2015, in central Kabul in broad daylight. I could not bear to watch the viral video of more than a dozen men beating and stoning the 27-year-old Afghan woman, before a car ran over her and the mob set fire to her unconscious body. She had been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Quran.
Following Farkhunda’s murder, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with her family and promised a full investigation. Dozens of men were arrested, but police failed to apprehend some who are clearly identifiable in the footage of the killing. The trials of those originally accused were conducted in haste and riddled with procedural errors, with many defendants lacking legal counsel. Thirteen men were ultimately convicted, but the following year the Supreme Court reduced their sentences. The man who had falsely accused Farkhunda was acquitted. Of the 19 men police prosecuted for failing to intervene in the murder, the court lightly disciplined only 11.
The case exposed deep weaknesses in Afghanistan’s criminal justice system, despite many donor-funded efforts since 2002 to train police, judges, and prosecutors. The legal system failed Farkhunda from the beginning when police stood by as the mob attacked her and failed to arrest a number of the attackers. That the police faced no real punishment only compounded the injustice.
The Afghan government has continued to promise thorough investigations in cases that attract international attention, as Ghani did in a recent sexual assault case involving the president of the Afghan Football Federation. But promises are meaningless if real steps are not taken to end impunity in Afghanistan. No one should be above the law.