Tears for Farkhunda: Catholics Join International Outcry Over Afghan Woman’s Savage Killing

The 28-year-old victim was lynched March 19 by a mob after an accusation, later refuted by police officials, that she burned a Quran.

(photo: Danumurthi Mahendra via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))

KABUL, Afghanistan — After last week’s horrific mob killing of a young woman in Afghanistan, Catholics are calling for a re-dedication to religious liberty and human rights worldwide.

A U.S. bishops’ conference representative told CNA on Tuesday that “the bishops have concerns” about “blasphemy laws that contribute to incidents of this nature.”

The 28-year-old victim, Farkhunda, was lynched March 19 by a mob after an accusation that she burned a Quran.

A policeman told the Associated Press the incident began when Farkhunda argued with a mullah at a shrine over being encouraged to buy amulets that she thought were superstitious. Bystanders overheard an accusation that she burned a Quran and retaliated against her based on that accusation.

The accusation was never verified, and the head of the country’s criminal investigative agency declared her innocent on Sunday, according to Reuters.

The mob beat her with bats, ran her over and dragged her with a car, and then they burned her body. Police say they have arrested more than 19 people over the incident. Thousands protested her killing in the streets of Kabul on Tuesday.

Afghanistan is notorious for its abuses of human rights and religious freedom.

In its most recent report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom highlighted Afghanistan as a “Tier 2” country to monitor for its abuses against religious freedom. “Tier 2” countries are just below “Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern,” which are the worst offenders of human rights and religious freedom.

Afghanistan has a legal system where “a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law is prioritized over human-rights guarantees,” the report noted, which results in human-rights abuses. In one example given, the report said, “The United Kingdom gave asylum to an atheist from Afghanistan over fears he would be prosecuted for apostasy and could face a death sentence.”

Women in the country also face particular violence and discrimination, the report detailed, “due, in part, to the Taliban’s resurgence and the strong influence of religious traditionalists.”

Research by the United Nations shows that Afghanistan experienced “a 20% increase in violence against women” during 2012. Additionally, women in public life “are condemned as ‘immoral’ and targeted for intimidation, harassment or violence” and were not able to gain legal protections in the legislature.

In the report, the organization also drew attention to the enforcement of blasphemy laws, particularly in neighboring Pakistan. Blasphemy laws there are punishable by death or life in prison, and accusations presented do not require evidence after the fact. Additionally, in a separate March 2014 briefing on blasphemy laws around the globe, the religious-freedom commission noted, in Pakistan, many “individuals accused of blasphemy have been murdered in associated vigilante violence.”

The commission also cited U.N. Human Rights Commission statements criticizing the punishment of blasphemy, saying that blasphemy laws “have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.”


Archbishop Auza

In recent weeks, the Holy See has also drawn attention both to violence against women and the need for respect for religious freedom.

On March 13, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, told the international body that the Middle East is facing destabilization and violence augmented, in part, by the persecution and violence against Christian communities in the region.

“A future without the different communities in the Middle East will run a high risk of new forms of violence, exclusion and the absence of peace and development,” he warned.

Women face injustice around the world, and this must be eradicated, the archbishop insisted.

Despite many advancements, he said, “too many women continue to face discrimination and many forms of violence just for being women.” He suggested the U.N. promote respect for the family and education for girls, calling the latter “an indispensable component in the fight for the advancement of women.”

Catholics everywhere can help to address offenses against human rights and religious freedom, Grazie Christie of The Catholic Association told CNA March 24: “The first thing that Catholics can do is to pray for religious liberty and human dignity all over the world.”

However, she continued, “keep in mind that, as Catholics, we are salt of the earth, and we have to make our voices heard right where we are,” encouraging Catholics to speak up “where similar abuses are being committed” against religious communities at home as well as abroad.