New International Religious Freedom Report

The State Department's Annual International Religious Freedom Report

Want to know about the state of Religious Freedom around the globe? The State Department has just published the International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. The Report begins its discussion of Religious Freedom around the world with a powerful story:

Executive Summary from the Religious Freedom Report:

March 19 began as an ordinary day for 27-year old Farkhunda Malikzada. Farkhunda lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, a city that had already endured decades of warfare and still existed under the constant threat of terrorist attacks by the Taliban. Despite this, Farkhunda lived a happy and optimistic life, according to her family. She worked as a teacher’s assistant while studying Islamic law. She lived with a loving family and dreamed of being married and having children, and perhaps becoming a judge.

On March 19, Farkhunda’s dreams came to a tragic end when she was falsely accused of burning the Quran, an accusation that resulted in her brutal and senseless death. As she made her way home from work that day, Farkhunda stopped at the Shah-e Du Shamshira Shrine in downtown Kabul. She said her prayers and then got into a discussion with the caretaker of the shrine, Zainuddin, about the selling of charms at the shrine, which Farkhunda considered to be un-Islamic. The discussion escalated into an argument, and the caretaker then accused her of being a tool of the Americans, and of having committed blasphemy by burning a Quran.

A crowd quickly gathered to hear the incendiary accusations. Quran burning is a grave religious offense in many Islamic countries, where it is viewed as a form of blasphemy.

Farkhunda denied the accusations and tried to defend herself from the increasingly agitated mob. Before long, a member of the crowd urged the mob to take “justice” into its own hands and kill her. Some of the police nearby tried to intervene as the crowd began to beat Farkhunda and pull at her clothing. The police officers gave up, however, and watched as the crowd tormented and killed its victim. She was beaten with sticks and boards, kicked, run over by a car and dragged, thrown into a dry riverbed, stoned, and finally set on fire as bystanders recorded the crime and police watched every act of barbarity. Farkhunda died in torment and pain sometime during the attack, according to medical examiners, but the crowd continued to abuse her lifeless body.

While Farkhunda’s killing illustrates the horrors that can result from false accusations of blasphemy in deeply conservative Islamic societies, what happened subsequently demonstrates that change is possible. President Ghani immediately condemned the attack and ordered an investigation. The domestic outrage after the attack was immediate, led by civil society and women’s groups. Afghan women carried Farkhunda’s body to her grave-site in a culturally unprecedented funeral procession that doubled as a widely publicized protest against her killing. Government officials and members of parliament participated in the funeral, and the head of the Ministry of Interior’s criminal investigation department told the crowd that Farkhunda was innocent. A few Afghan government and religious leaders who had initially endorsed the killing were marginalized and in at least one case fired.

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