KABUL—An Afghan judge sentenced four men to death by hanging on Wednesday for their role in the brutal murder of a young woman in Kabul by a frenzied mob, a case that has become a test of the country’s resolve to crack down on violence against women.
In March, a group of men beat to death the young woman, Farkhunda, after she was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran, an act considered a grave form of sacrilege in this conservative Muslim country.
Video footage of the incident that was widely shared on Afghan social media showed Ms. Farkhunda being beaten while police looked on without intervening. Her body was thrown in a dry riverbed and then set on fire as a crowd of hundreds watched, with some chanting “Allahu akbar!” or God is great.
The incident was a major embarrassment for the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has touted women’s rights as a priority for his government. The gruesome murder took place days before Mr. Ghani made a high-profile visit to Washington to court U.S. military support and financial backing. Ms. Farkhunda’s death also sparked widespread protests by civic activists.
A total of 30 citizens faced prosecution in the case; in addition, 19 police officers have been charged with criminal negligence and dereliction of duty. Judge Saifullah Mojaddadi read the verdicts Wednesday morning following a televised trial that drew major public attention in Afghanistan.
One of the men sentenced to death was a Muslim cleric, Zainul Abidin. The other three men who received the death penalty were Mohammad Yasin,Mohammad Sharif andAbdul Bashir. The verdict is preliminary and all four men have the right to appeal.
Another eight men received sentences of 16 years in prison; Judge Mojaddadi ordered another 18 men to be set free.
Three key suspects are still being sought by authorities in connection with the killing of Ms. Farkhunda, who went by one name.
Fawzia Koofi, a prominent female lawmaker and member of a fact-finding committee in the case, said she was unhappy that so many individuals were acquitted.
“There is lots of [footage]and evidence of those who played a role in instigating this,” she said. “There were innocent people among the 18, but finding all of them innocent was surprise to me.”