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The New York Times has pieced together the moments leading up to the savage 2015 murder of a young Afghan woman named Farkhunda Malikzada by a crazed mob of angry religious zealots in Kabul. Farkhunda’s crime in their eyes: Burning a copy of the Quran. It turned out, however, that she’d been falsely accused of burning the Islamic holy book, but that was of little comfort to anyone after she was dead and ultimately declared “totally innocent.” In a show of mourning and anger, strict Afghan funeral traditions were broken when women carried the 27-year-old Farkhunda’s coffin to her burial.
Outrage followed the case as many involved in perpetrating the crime had charges against them lessened or dropped. A full year after Farkhunda’s death, the country’s Supreme Court reduced the sentences, from the death penalty to as little as 10 years in prison, of the four men convicted in her killing.
The Times documentary takes an aggregate of raw cellphone footage shot by witnesses and some of the attackers, who shared the videos online, to show Farkhunda’s final moments and, for the first time, shows the brutal crime in its entirety and that possibly hundreds of people took part in the killing of an innocent woman. Much of the footage, the narrator of the documentary explains, was removed from the internet by those who shared it and feared retribution. But clips were found on Afghan websites and foreign language social media accounts where it still circulates.
“Bring her out! Kill her!” infuriated members of the mob demand, after Farkhunda was first accused of burning the holy book. As the situation escalates, violence breaks out on the streets outside of a shrine that is located about two miles from the presidential palace. Men, young and old, begin beating and kicking Farkhunda. Forced to the ground by the assault, Farkhunda shouts “Alluha Akbar,” echoing the screams of her attackers. For a moment, police, firing gunshots into the air, are able to briefly subdue the crowd. By that point, Farkhunda is severely wounded, covered in blood — but still alive.
The mob’s anger mounts again and some accuse Farkhunda of being an American sympathizer or possibly a French embassy worker. Eventually, the police are unable to contain the advancing mob and, in a last-ditch attempt to save her life, lift her onto the roof of a shoddy nearby building. But angry attackers pelt her with stones and wood, and eventually she falls off the roof to the ground. Bloodied and disoriented, the mob surrounds her and brutally beats her. “Long live Islam!” spectators, some of whom have perched themselves on a nearby roof for a better view, shout. “Beat her!” children’s voices cry out, demanding a defense of Islam. “Don’t be an infidel,” is the message, the narrator explains. The police officers, having given up, stand on the roof and watch as the mob kills Farkhunda.
Someone shouts out, “The blasphemer has been killed!” Shockingly, the crime takes another unthinkable turn after that. The footage is graphic and difficult to watch, but exposes a level of brutality that many in the Western world would otherwise never witness.
The film was produced by three New York Times journalists: John Woo, a senior editor for the Times’ video department; senior video correspondent and reporter Adam B. Ellick; and New York Times bureau chief in Paris Alissa J. Rubin, a Pulitzer Prize-winner last year. It was released about three weeks ago, around the second anniversary of Farkhunda’s death. Watch the documentary in full above.