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Rights group slams sentence cuts in Afghan woman's killing

A leading international rights group on Thursday slammed Afghanistan's justice system over the case of a woman beaten to death by a frenzied mob last year

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A leading international rights group on Thursday slammed Afghanistan's justice system over the case of a woman beaten to death by a frenzied mob last year, saying the system had bitterly failed Farkhunda Malikzada when it cut the sentences of the 13 men convicted of her murder.

In its statement, Human Rights Watch also called it a "bitter irony" that Afghanistan's Supreme Court confirmed the reduced sentences on March 8, the International Women's Day.

On March 19 last year, a Kabul mob brutally attacked 27-year-old Malikzada outside a shrine in the Afghan capital, after one of the men in the group shouted that she had burned a Quran, the Muslim holy book — an accusation that was later found to be false.

The brutal slaying stunned the country and led to calls for reform of the judicial system, long plagued by corruption, partisanship and incompetence — and stronger protection for women from violence.

Four men were originally sentenced to death for her murder and another nine were handed long prison sentences. However, the Supreme Court this week upheld the decision of a lower court to reduce the sentences for all convicted.

Three of the death sentences were commuted to 20 years and the fourth to 10 years. The other nine men convicted in the case also had their prison terms slashed. Initially, 30 men were charged with Malikzada's murder.

Footage taken on cell phones of the attack showed Malikzada being punched, kicked and beaten with wooden planks, after which the crowd threw her from a roof, ran over her with a car and crushed her with a block of concrete. They then set her body ablaze on the bank of the Kabul River.

The incident triggered widespread demonstrations demanding justice for women in a country where they are widely treated with contempt and where they have their constitutional right to protection from violence routinely breached. An Afghan civil rights group has erected a memorial to her on the river bank.

"At every stage of this case, the Afghan criminal justice system failed to adequately investigate, hold to account or appropriately punish those responsible," the HRW report said.