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Re-Enactment Of Afghan Woman's Mob Killing Brings Actress To Tears

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And on the streets of Kabul this week, a theater troupe re-enacted a deadly mob attack that has gripped the Afghan capital.

LEENA ALAM: (As Farkhunda, shouting in foreign language).

MONTAGNE: The cries you are hearing are those of Leena Alam. She's a famous actress in Afghanistan. Here, playing the role of a young woman named Farkhunda. In March, the 27-year-old Farkhunda was beaten to death in broad daylight outside a mosque. She had been falsely accused of burning a Quran after arguing with men who were hawking amulets there. She called them unreligious. Police looked on as she was kicked and stoned. Her body eventually was thrown into a riverbed and set on fire. The attack was caught on numerous cellphone videos, and Farkhunda's death struck a chord among Afghans in a way not seen before. We reached actress Leena Alam in Kabul.

Thank you for joining us.

ALAM: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Re-enacting this murder, which is quite dramatic and truly awful, was a startling kind of political theater. What were you thinking when you thought to do this?

ALAM: You know, I didn't think of it as political. I was just thinking about her. Since her death - I mean, every day that goes by I dream about her. I couldn't eat - all of us - all the activists - women's activists and men, women. So no, I didn't think of it as a political demonstration. I was just doing it for Farkhunda, and everybody was just doing it for Farkhunda. It was a simple demonstration to raise our voices and for people to see what happened to her.

MONTAGNE: Watching your performance - it was very physical. You were thrown around. You were hit by your fellow actors. I guess props included fake concrete pieces. By the end, you yourself - you were in tears.

ALAM: Yes. I was even seeing blood. Of course, there was no blood, but I was seeing blood - her blood. The same street I was standing on, it was the same street that she was killed. So there was so much emotion going through me, and I just start crying.

MONTAGNE: How - how did the crowd on the street react to this performance?

ALAM: You know, everybody was quiet, of course. While we were doing it - the acting - I couldn't hear anything. I couldn't see faces. So after I was done and I was looking at people's faces, people were just crying and they were quiet. They didn't clap at the end. They wanted to. And somehow - somehow they were stopped because it was not the right - the right moment to clap. They were pretty shocked. So it made a big effect on people.

MONTAGNE: Did you ever have any concern for your own safety doing this? You had no headscarf on the street.

ALAM: Yeah, no, I didn't. After the show was done, then there was no scarf, and my overcoat was off because that's what happened to Farkhunda. Her scarf was off of her head and her chapan, which is overcoat, was off. So I did it as it happened to her. Yeah, it is a bit scary, but I was not even afraid that somebody may shoot me from the hillside or from the mountain (laughter) the houses on the mountain there. So it is scary, but I'm not afraid anymore, you know?

MONTAGNE: Well, one thing that happened in the beginning when this story was being told, she was described as mentally ill. And, you know, she seemed like something of an outcast. It turns out none of that was true; that she was a scholar of the Quran. That she was an upstanding young woman. So she went from a pariah to a martyr rather quickly. I'm wondering if she offered a symbol, something to - to rally around.

ALAM: You know, I think we were fed up with everything that happens in Afghanistan against women. So maybe this just did it for us and just started something really big and fearless from now on. She sacrificed herself for us women in Afghanistan. She gave us louder voice now. She gave us some unique power now, not to be scared; just go and scream for justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Actress Leena Alam re-enacted the mob killing of Farkhunda this week. So far, 49 men have been arrested for her murder. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.