NEW DELHI: Thousands of angry protesters hurled bricks and stamped on a 27-year old woman accused of burning the Quran in downtown Kabul on Thursday.

The victim, known only as Farkhunda, was suffering from mental illness -- her family told the police. The angry protesters first stoned the young woman to death, after which she was set on fire and her body thrown into the Kabul river, from where it was recovered by the police.

Media reports have said that protesters were chanting anti-American and anti-democracy slogans while beating the woman.Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the incident.

The brutal lynching has angered many in Afghanistan, where women’s rights and safety has emerged as a key cause of concern. Rights groups have come out in opposition to factions within the country that have attempted to roll back the progress made since the end of Taliban rule.

In recent years, women have faced the brunt of violence in the war-torn country, with a recent UN report noting a 21 per cent increase in the number of women killed in Afghanistan in 2014 from 2013 with 298 women killed and 611 injured.

(2014 saw war-related casualties in Afghanistan reach a record high, with women and children killed also reaching record numbers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Further, women in the country remain concerned that despite the transition to democracy, they remain isolated from the democratic decision making process. According to a report released last year by Oxfam, Afghan women have been systematically excluded from the government’s efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban. “We’ve always been concerned about the threat that our leaders will trade women’s rights away for peace,” said Sara Surkhabi, a senator and one of nine women on the Afghan High Peace Council, which has 61 men, had said at the time (as quoted in The New York Times).

(Burqas fail to shield many Afghan women from daily harassment, both in the street and at the workplace. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS)

This remains a concern as the new government led by President Ashraf Ghani moves to begin a peace dialogue with the Taliban this month.

Women’s right, or rather -- the lack of, in Afghanistan had come to the international media’s attention recently over the controversy surrounding a bill that would effectively deny women facing abuse legal protection being passed by the Afghan parliament last year.

According to the proposed bill, relatives of the accused could not be questioned as witnesses. As a majority of abuse takes place inside the home most often by family members, the bill implies for instance, that a woman who is the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband cannot testify against him or a girl who has been forced into marriage cannot testify against her family.

(The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates a 22 percent increase in cases of violence against women. Marius Arnesen/CC-BY-SA-2.0. Credit: IPS)

The outcry that followed the bill’s signing ensured that the President at the time, Hamid Karzai, did not sign the bill into effect. However, the fact that it was proposed and passed by a majority of the two houses of parliament is indicative of the vulnerable position of women in Afghan society.