On December 26, 2015, the New York Times posted a lengthy story with disturbing video showing an Afghan woman being beaten to death for allegedly burning a Quran at a local shrine. The story should be required reading for everyone, and should be part of our collective awareness of the world around us.
Farkhunda Malikzada was 27 years old, a victim of mob justice in a country that is known for its deplorable treatment of women.
Following her death, it was determined that the woman did not burn a Quran at all. (Color me Western, but I fail to understand how her violent murder would have been justified even if she had burned a Quran, but I digress.)
Fortune tellers would visit the shrine on certain days. Wednesdays, for example, were only for women, and amulets could be purchased from the fortune tellers to help them get pregnant, conceive male children, get married, etc. The amulets consisted of little more than pieces of paper that had writing on them. The women would pin the paper to themselves.
These practices are not religious in nature, and some people – Farkhunda being one of them – took issue with the use of “superstition” under the veil of religion. She confronted the fortune teller.
Later, it was determined that in addition to amulets, the fortune teller was smuggling Viagra into the shrine, and condoms too. Some even suspected he was a pimp of sorts.
What Farkhunda actually did, was stand up for her religious faith by standing up to this fraudulent man at the shrine. She was protecting her religion. The terrible irony is that she was accused of disrespecting her faith in the most heinous of ways – by burning a Quran – when she was, in fact, doing the opposite. If anything, what Farkhunda actually burned were the amulets. Those useless pieces of paper her fellow sisters were hanging their entire existences on.
She was not given a criminal trial, nor due process. She was beaten to death in the street, her body burned, while police and others stood by.
Women, joined by a few men, marched in the streets, demanding justice for Farkhunda. Candlelight vigils were held, and high profile people took notice.
An investigation was conducted. Some people were charged with crimes relating to Farkhunda’s murder. The man who first accused her of burning the Quran, even received a death sentence.
For a minute, at least, it felt like a victory. Even as she wasn’t alive to see it, perhaps Farkhunda would get justice. Perhaps the women of Afghanistan – all of those who had been abused before Farkhunda – would receive justice.
Then, just as quickly, those wheels of “justice” shifted. While many people were tried and convicted in the case, quite a few had their sentences overturned or drastically reduced upon appeal. The man who accused Farkhunda of burning the Quran had his death sentence commuted to life in prison, a sentence in Afghanistan that equates to 20 years. Another man who was given a death sentence had it reduced on appeal to a mere 10 years imprisonment.
Many of the guilty had their sentences overturned, but it appears many of the innocent were convicted as well.
In short, chaos reigned, and it looks as if actual justice was the last thing on the minds of many. The court system in Afghanistan does not resemble that of its western contemporaries. In fact, the lawyers of one of the accused didn’t even know his client’s trial had begun until the man’s father called and told him so. Defendants are allowed only short statements at trial, to be recited at the very end of the proceedings. The judges rule almost immediately thereafter, rendering it inconceivable that they’re taking the statements of the accused into consideration.
Farkhunda’s family fled Afghanistan, but still seek justice for her, having appealed to the country’s supreme court for assistance. Still today, many think of Farkhunda as the “woman who burned the Quran”, and who was lynched for doing so.