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The Telegraph, July 3, 2015

Farkhunda mob killing: Family’s lawyer calls Afghan court “corrupt” for death sentence U-turn

Attorney Kimberley Motley has claimed the family of a 27-year old woman beaten to death in March knew nothing about a 'secret' hearing to overturn the death sentences of four men found guilty of her killing

By Claire Cohen

The lawyer who represented Farkhunda’s family in court has spoken of her outrage over the decision to overturn the death sentences of four men convicted of killing her.

The 27-year old was beaten to death in March this year in a vicious mob killing in Kabul.

Kimberley Motley told the Telegraph that the decision was ‘shocking’ and had been handled in a ‘corrupt manner.

“I think it’s ridiculous that the court would be so blatant in defying due process and the laws of Afghanistan,” she said.

“It’s shocking that it’s been handled in such a corrupt manner. The first trial was so open and transparent, it makes no sense”.

Forty-nine people were brought to trial in a case that made headlines around the world.

Farkhunda was beaten, run over with a car and set on fire as a crowd chanted “God is greatest” and filmed the incident on their mobile phones and posted it on social media. The footage was later used as evidence in court.

She had been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran.

Farkhunda's killers have escaped harsh sentences under the Afghan courts
Farkhunda's killers have escaped harsh sentences under the Afghan courts.

In May, 27 people were found not guilty: 18 civilians and 9 police officers. Twelve convictions were handed down to civilians, including four death sentences.

Now three of those have been reduced to 20 years in jail, while the fourth was re-sentenced to 10 years by an appeal court, according to a judge familiar with the case that prompted street protests and a debate on women's rights.

Motley has accused the appeal court of purposely holding the hearing ‘in secret’ and explained that neither she, nor Farkhunda’s family, knew about the re-sentencing until a local Afghan reporter called them.

“This was a secret hearing,” the attorney said. “To even call it a ‘hearing’ is generous. It wasn’t open to the public and the family weren’t allowed to know about it. There was no opportunity for them or the prosecutors to question or present evidence.

“The family are so upset. It’s a joke and a slap in the face for Afghanistan’s legal system and women’s rights”.

Defendants attend a hearing in the case of Farkhunda who was beaten to death in Kabul
Defendants attend a hearing in the case of Farkhunda who was beaten to death in Kabul, May 6, 2015 (Photo: AP)

The mob killing of Farkhunda shocked Afghans, many of who pressured the government for justice in what Motley called a ‘monumental case’. She said that women’s rights activists there are now ‘figuring out their next steps’ and that many people were angry at the decision and she expected protests to break out.

She explained that she expected the family – who she no longer represents since the trial ended in May – to appeal.

“The prosecutors and family should appeal, they have a right to take this to the Supreme Court,” she said. “They should do it for the purpose of making sure due process if being followed.

“They need to ask why this ‘hearing’ happened so quickly – just 43 days after the final verdict. Nothing ever happens that quickly. There’s no way to look at this other than that the second court was purposely held in secret.

“It will be interesting to see what the judge’s rationale is for this decision. According to law, there needs to be a written statement explaining that, written at the time of the verdict. Does such a document even exist? Neither me, the family nor the prosecutors have seen it but we’re entitled to.

“There needs to be an internal investigation, starting with the judges”.

“I’m not trying to advocate the execution of these men,” she added. “But due process rights need to be upheld.”

The anonymous Kabul judge who confirmed the story told reporters: "I confirm that the decision was reversed because the defence prosecutor was not satisfied”.

He added that the case would now go to another appellate court that could again change the sentences.

After the original verdicts were handed down in May this year, Motley wrote a blog for Telegraph Wonder Women explaining why the case was a ‘defining moment’ for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She explained that: “by convicting the police involved Afghanistan has taken the first step in showing it understands the need to protect and value its women”.

Today, she said: “The rule of law is the foundation of any civilised society. If the courts don’t get this decision right then you have to ask how serious it is about progressing the rights of women.

“Justice for Farkhunda is a reflection of how women will be treated in Afghanistan in the future.

“We don’t need any more empty promises”.

In March, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised to work towards a commitment to woman's rights and a transformation of the legal system.

A 2012 Oxfam report found that 87 per cent of Afghan woman will be victims of some form of physical, sexual, psychological violence, or forced marriage in their lifetimes.

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