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Afghan Court Commutes Death Sentences In Mob Killing Of Woman

An appeals court in Afghanistan has overturned the death sentences handed to four men who were part of a mob that attacked and killed a 28-year-old woman falsely accused of burning the Quran.

As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported in May, the woman, Farkhunda, who like many Afghans goes by one name, was falsely accused by a mullah and his supporters in Kabul of burning Islam's holy book. Soraya reported: "Their claims enraged a crowd outside a shrine here and led dozens of people to beat her with their fists, boards and rocks until she was dead."

The attack and desecration of the woman's remains were captured on videos that went viral. Hundreds protested against the killing, and the government eventually acted against the accused killers. A swift trial, which was televised, followed and a judge declared a dozen people guilty of the attack and sentenced four of them, including the mullah, to death. The court separatelysentenced 11 Afghan policemen to a year in prison for failing to protect her.

Soraya reported at the time of the sentencing that pressure from other mullahs "could turn public sentiment and lead to today's sentences being overturned on appeal." And that's what happened Thursday in a court hearing that was held behind closed doors. The BBC adds:

"Judge Ali Masir Murid told the BBC that three of the condemned men had been sentenced to 20 years in jail; a fourth received 10 years because he is a minor."

Women's rights groups criticized Thursday's decision, as did Farkhunda's family.

"It's not a court, it's just a show... The media should have been there, we should [have] been there, the lawyers should have been there," Najibullah, her brother, told the BBC. "It's a real theatre. The whole world laughs at the judicial system of Afghanistan. Do the judges have families, sisters, mothers — or not? Do they have a heart? We will not accept this decision."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.