May 2, 2015 / 10:34 AM / 3 years ago

Dozens tried for mob killing of Afghan woman that sparked outcry

KABUL (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan men including several policemen faced trial on Saturday over the mob killing in Kabul of a 27-year-old woman accused of burning a Koran, a lynching that prompted unprecedented protests.

Defendants attend their trial at the Primary Court in Kabul, May 2, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The trial, expected to last two days, was broadcast live on television.

A frenzied crowd beat and kicked the woman, named Farkhunda, to death on March 19 and set her body on fire as several police looked on near a shrine in central Kabul.

The attack was captured by mobile phone video and distributed online. Some of those arrested were tracked down after bragging about participating on social media.

One of the men on trial Saturday, identified only as Sharifullah, described his role in the attack.

“I kicked her once or twice but did not participate in the whole thing,” he testified.

“Others were asking for a match box, so I gave them my lighter.”

The broad-daylight attack proved a polarizing incident in conservative Muslim country.

Some defending the killing as a defense of Islam, but many others were outraged at the viciousness of the attack even before an investigation showed that Farkhunda had been falsely accused of desecrating the holy book.

Several protests against violence against women sprung up in Kabul, including one in the last week that re-enacted the attack.

It is the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 that a popular movement has mobilized in support of a woman.

Under the Islamist Taliban regime, women were banned from leaving home without a male guardian, denied education and forced to wear the all-covering burqa.

Women’s rights were enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution after the Taliban were ousted by a U.S.-backed military intervention, but the majority of society remains deeply conservative.

While the demonstrations against Farkhunda’s killing were unusual, protests against insulting Islam are more common.

In 2012, several people were killed in protests across the country after charred copies of the Muslim holy book were found on a military base near Kabul. U.S. President Barack Obama apologized for the incident at the time.

Two people died in Kabul in January during protests against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, following the killings of staff of the satirical weekly at its offices in Paris by Islamist gunmen.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel

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