Thousands marched through the Afghan capital on Tuesday, demanding justice for a woman who was beaten to death by a mob, after being falsely accused of burning a Quran.
Men and women of all ages carried banners bearing the bloodied face of Farkhunda, a 27-year-old religious scholar killed last week by the mob. Farkhunda, who went by one name like many Afghans, was beaten, run over with a car and burned before her body was thrown into the Kabul River.
Organizers of Tuesday’s march, the second protest over the brutal slaying in as many days, estimated that up to 3,000 people took part, calling it one of the biggest demonstrations in Kabul’s history. Marchers chanted “Justice for Farkhunda!” and “Death to the killers!”
Amrullah Saleh, a political leader and former director of the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, said the demonstrators sought to make Farkhanda an icon of the struggle against “injustice, mob court, street violence, violence against women, lawlessness, extremism” and, especially the injustice suffered by women.
“She is an example of probably what has happened silently to many,” Saleh told The Associated Press. “She drew a line with her blood between those who want justice, rule of law, and those who are extreme in their views and who breed in lawlessness”
The Interior Ministry said that 28 people have been arrested, and 13 police officers suspended as part of investigations. Also, the spokesman for the Kabul police, Hashmat Stanikzai, was fired over comments he made on social media supporting Farkhunda’s killers. Stanikzai could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Taliban issued a statement on Tuesday, condemning the attack and calling it a conspiracy that uses “the name of the Quran to kill innocent civilians.” It also extended condolences to Farkhunda’s family.
The demonstrators in Kabul also called for action against officials and religious leaders who had initially said that Farkhunda’s killing was justifiable, if she had burned pages of a Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Among the crowd were prominent rights activists, including Fatana Gailani, the head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, who said she hoped the incident would be a catalyst for change in a society traumatized by war, corruption and lack of leadership.
“The new generation has known nothing but war, they are not educated,” she said.
President Ashraf Ghani took office in September following a bitter election campaign during which he promised to champion women’s constitutional rights, end corruption and bring peace. Six months into his presidency, his Cabinet is not yet complete, economic growth is stalled after double digits in 2013, and the fight against the Taliban is in full force despite his efforts to open a dialogue with the insurgents.
Ghani’s wife and First Lady Rula, a Christian of Lebanese background, has pushed for women’s rights but has not yet spoken publicly about Farkhunda’s killing, though she is believed to have visited the woman’s family briefly before her funeral on Sunday.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality and protection from violence, women in Afghanistan are still widely subject to violence, both privately and publicly.
Some activists say the killing has brought cohesion to civil society and unity to Afghans, appalled by the brutality of the attack.
In Kabul’s industrial suburb of Kotesangi, 33-year-old carpet seller Abdul Hamid said Farkhunda’s death has shattered the dignity of the Afghan nation.
“Everybody has a sister,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like the brutality that was brought upon this woman.”
The attack last Thursday appeared to have grown out of a dispute between Farkhunda, a veiled woman who had just finished a degree in religious studies, and was preparing to take a teaching post, and men who sold amulets at Kabul’s famous Shah-Do Shamshera shrine.
Farkhuda urged women not to waste their money on the amulets, her friends and family have said. Her father, Mohammed Nadir, said the men responded by making false accusations that she had torched a Quran, which set off the brutal assault.
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