An Afghan appeals court has overturned death sentences against two men in a gang-rape case while upholding death sentences against five others.
Judge Sediqullah Haqiq on September 15 ruled there was insufficient evidence to support death sentences issued on September 7 by a trial court judge against Safiullah Sultan Mohammad and Jamil Shah Alam.
Neither was convicted of rape but both were found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping. Haqiq sentenced them to 20 years in prison.
The five others were found guilty of "gang rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and violence against women" for attacking four female members of a group that was returning to Kabul from a wedding outside the Afghan capital.
Haqiq ruled on September 15 that their death sentences should stand.
One of the victims, an 18-year-old girl, died in the hospital after the attack.
Some of the perpetrators were clothed in police uniforms and carried assault rifles when they stopped the convoy of cars in which the victims were riding, on their way home from a wedding.
Afghanistan’s president must confirm death sentences for them to be carried out.
Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has said they should be executed.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the trial as "badly flawed" and included "coerced confessions and inadequate time to prepare a defense."
The group said, "From the beginning, the case was marked by serious flaws, in the police investigation and in a trial that violated international due process standards as well as protections under Afghan law and the constitution."
"The police and court have responded to a horrific crime with a botched trial that makes a mockery of justice for both victims and defendants," HRW quoted its deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine, as saying. "This case sadly demonstrates that the Afghan justice system, despite more than a decade of promised reform, still has a long way to go before genuine justice is handed down."