Trial begins in mob killing of Afghanistan woman

Afghan members of the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan wearing masks bearing an impression of the bloodied face of a woman who was lynched by a mob chant slogans during a protest against the attack in Kabul on March 23, 2015. Afghan woman who was beaten to death and set on fire by a mob for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran. The body of Farkhunda, 27, who was lynched on March 19 by an angry mob in central Kabul, was carried to the graveyard by women amid crowds of men, an AFP reporter said, a rare act of protest in a male-dominated society. AFP PHOTO / SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The trial of 49 suspects, including 19 police officers, on charges relating to the brutal mob killing of an Afghan woman began Saturday in Kabul.

The opening of the trial at Afghanistan's Primary Court was broadcast live on nationwide television. The suspects all face charges relating to the March 19 killing of a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda.

A prosecutor read charges against 10 of the defendants, including assault, murder and encouraging others to participate in the assault. The police officers are charged with neglecting their duties and failing to prevent the attack.

Prosecutors have alleged that Farkhunda was beaten to death in a frenzied attack sparked by a bogus accusation that she had burned a copy of the Quran.

The killing shocked many Afghans, though some public and religious figures said it would have been justified if she in fact had damaged a copy of the Muslim holy book.

Cellphone video of the assault circulated widely on social media. It showed Farkhunda, who like many Afghans went by only one name, being beaten, run over with a car and burned before her body was thrown into the Kabul River.

The incident sparked nationwide outrage, as well as a civil society movement to limit the power of clerics, strengthen the rule of law and improve women's rights.

Safiullah Mojadedi, head of the Primary Court, called for senior officials, including the Kabul police chief and the Interior Ministry's chief criminal investigator, to attend Sunday's court session. He also ordered the arrest of another police officer who allegedly freed a suspect.

At least two of the accused told the court they had confessed under physical duress.

Afghanistan's judicial system long has faced criticism for its inability to offer the majority of Afghans access to justice. Women especially are sidelined, despite constitutional guarantees of equality and protection from violence, a recent report by the United Nations concluded.