The Afghan government on Wednesday executed five men accused of the gang rape of four women traveling home from a wedding in August, a case that generated national outrage.
The execution by hanging came after weeks of public outcry, with Afghans calling for the death penalty for the 10 men originally accused of robbing the group of travelers and raping the women, who were returning from a wedding in Paghman, a lake district 20 minutes from Kabul, the capital.
Seven of the men, arrested less than a week after the Aug. 23 attack, were convicted and sentenced to death. But a Sept. 7 appeal reduced the sentences for two of them to up to 20 years in prison. Three suspects remain at large.
Then-President Hamid Karzai approved and signed the execution order last month on his last day in office, a rare such authorization in his more than decade-long tenure, the Associated Press reported.
Speaking to The Times after the initial convictions, Saeeq Shajjan, a Kabul-based lawyer, called the case "one of those rare instances that has brought people from all walks of life together."
"Ordinary Afghans, civil society, politicians, senior leadership of the government, including the presidential palace, and jihadi leaders have all condemned this evil act," he said.
Others, however, questioned the judicial procedure that led to the executions.
Shortly after Kabul Police Chief Gen. Zahir Zahir confirmed the deaths at Pul-e-Charkhi prison outside Kabul, Amnesty International issued a statement saying the "execution of five men in Afghanistan who had been convicted of a gang rape following a series of flawed trials is an affront to justice."
Shajjan said that though he commended the police for quick action in arresting the seven accused, the judiciary's willingness to disclose information to journalists, including the identities of the accused, was in contravention of Afghan law.
Along with rape, the accused were tried on charges of impersonating police officers and armed robbery, Shajjan said. This may have added to the pressure on Karzai's government to act swiftly, the lawyer said.
Still, he said, "this does not mean rights guaranteed for the accused under the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan should be violated.... Protecting all rights of the accused does not mean that there should be any leniency toward the accused."
Wazhma Frogh, a women's rights activist based in Kabul, said in a recent interview that although a swift response is warranted, it has little effect on the implementation of a law designed to eliminate violence against women, approved by presidential decree in 2009.
"We still have so many cases of rape pending in the court, and they won't see the same level of reaction nor judicial response," Frogh said.
Khalil Sherzad, originally from the eastern province of Nangarhar, said the hangings put the minds of many Afghans at ease.
"I am happy. They actually should have been stoned to death, but this is still sufficient," Sherzad said.
But Omaid Sharifi, a civil society activist based in Kabul who opposes capital punishment, said the accused "should have been imprisoned for life.... Keeping them in prison will force them to sit with their thoughts and truly realize that they have done something wrong."