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'Justice Has Not Been Served': One Year Sentence for Afghan Police Who Failed to Stop Mob Killing

The family of Farkhunda, who was fatally beaten and burned by a mob in Kabul while police stood by, say the lenient sentence is just the latest failure of the Afghan justice system.
Photo by Massoud Hossaini/AP

A one-year sentence handed on Tuesday to 11 police officers who failed to protect a woman killed by a mob in Afghanistan has angered her relatives and activists who say the justice system has failed to truly punish those responsible.

Judge Safiullah Mujadidi gave the officers the verdict for dereliction of duty while acquitting eight other officers on charges of negligence, at a primary court in Kabul.

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The police officers were accused of standing by while Farkhunda, a 27-year-old teacher, was beaten and burned by an angry mob in March after being falsely accused of burning pages of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

Cell phone footage of the murder captured by the hundreds of onlookers, reportedly mostly young men, led to outrage among Afghans, sparking mass protests and calling international attention to Afghanistan's dire women's rights record.

Chief among the demands of those calling for justice was that the police be held to account, especially as the footage seemed to show the police on the scene doing nothing to stop the mob who beat Farkhunda with stones and sticks and ran over her body with a car before finally setting her on fire in the Kabul River.

A district police chief and an investigating officer were among those handed one-year terms on Tuesday — the minimum term for police negligence under Afghan law. The sentences will include time already served while in custody.

Earlier this month, Judge Mujadidi sentenced four Afghan man to death and eight others to 16 years in jail, following a three-day trial which drew criticism for being rushed and failing to follow due process. He dropped charges against 18 others due to lack of evidence.

Speaking after today's sentencing, Farkhunda's brother Najibullah said the family had been failed by the Afghan authorities. "From the beginning we have been saying justice was not served. It wasn't served in the previous verdict and not now, either," he told VICE News. "An innocent woman was beaten with rocks and set on fire. The perpetrators haven't been brought to justice and we haven't experienced justice ourselves."

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Related: 'What Does the Killing of Four Men Do?': Anger Over Afghan Mob Killing Verdict

Samira Hamidi, a women's rights activist based in Kabul who has closely followed the case and attended the trial, said she was deeply disappointed. "The first group that failed the citizenry of Afghanistan in this case was the police, the force charged with maintaining the public order", she told VICE News. There was plenty the police could have done to step in, she said. "They could have fired aerial shots, even into the crowd, if need be."

Saeeq Shajjan, a Kabul-based lawyer, said the verdict didn't go far enough in setting an example.

"It would have been better if they were sentenced to highest possible term [three years] and banned from service in the police force," he told VICE News. "This way it would serve as the kind of sentence that sends a strong, long-lasting message to all security forces."

Afghan women's rights activist Orzala Ashraf Nemat echoed his statement, saying police should have been punished more harshly than other people involved in Farkhunda's death.

I found 1 yr sentence4some policemen in #FarkhundaTrial unacceptable bcz logically they shd get strngr punishment than ordinary ppl involved

— Orzala (@Orzala) May 19, 2015

Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye

Related: Family of Afghan Woman Murdered by Mob Says She Was Devoted to Islam and Did Not Burn the Quran