An Afghan appeal court has overturned death sentences given to four men for the mob killing in March of a woman falsely accused of blasphemy in Kabul, a judge said Thursday.
The woman, Farkhunda, 27, was savagely beaten and her body set ablaze in broad daylight, triggering protests around the country and drawing global attention to the treatment of Afghan women.
Police arrested 49 people in connection with the attack, including 19 police officers, some of whom were shown standing by doing nothing to stop the lynching in cellphone videos recorded by bystanders.
In May a court sentenced four men to death and eight others were handed 16-year jail terms after a three-day trial broadcast live on national television.
"The appeal court decided to reduce the sentence - three of them got 20 years in prison and one 10 years," judge Nasir Murid, the head of the Kabul appeals court, told AFP without giving any further details.
The appeal was heard behind closed doors and reportedly reached a verdict on Wednesday, according to local media.
Farkhunda's brother Mujibullah told AFP the family had not been told of the court's decision or invited to the session.
"We just heard through media that the appeal court in a secret session has reversed the decision. They didn't inform us. Whatever the decision is we will not accept it." he said.
Eleven Afghan policemen were also sentenced in May to one year in prison for failing to protect Farkhunda from the angry mob.
Farkhunda was attacked on the banks of the Kabul River after an amulet seller, whom she had reportedly castigated for peddling superstition, falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Koran.
Her case becomes a symbol of the endemic violence that women face in Afghanistan, despite reforms since the hardline Taliban regime fell in 2001.
The backlash highlighted the angst of a post-Taliban generation in Afghanistan - where nearly two-thirds of the population is under 25 - that is often torn between conservatism and modernity as the country rebuilds after decades of war.
On Thursday, a number of activists reacted angrily to the court's decision.
"We are planning massive protest against the court ruling on Farkhunda. Lack of justice and transparency is just unacceptable," activist Ramin Anwari wrote on Twitter.
Last October five Afghan men were hanged over a gang rape that sparked a national outcry, though the United Nations and human rights groups called for President Ashraf Ghani to stay the executions.
The trial of suspects in Farkhunda's case drew praise from some for its fast-track nature but also prompted concern over its fairness.
Human Rights Watch said it was "very concerned" over whether due process was followed in the swift trial in which many of the accused did not appear to have lawyers.