By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declined to intervene on Sunday in the case of four men convicted over the mob killing of a young woman, despite public anger over the fact their initial death sentences have been replaced by prison terms.
The woman, named Farkhunda, was beaten to death by a crowd and set on fire in central Kabul in March after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran.
The softening of the men's sentences has dismayed activists who say it shows that billions of dollars of Western aid designed to boost women's education and role in Afghan society has failed to give them justice and equal rights.
Ghani's office issued a statement after the president met campaigners, who voiced anger over the case and complained other suspects were still at large.
"The president said that the constitution prohibits him from interfering," the statement said.
It then quoted Ghani's legal adviser as saying that there were shortcomings in the penal code, the men had not had access to defense lawyers in the initial proceedings, and the main issue was to determine who struck the final blow.
The statement did not explain why the court proceedings were held in secret and only revealed after they were leaked to local outlet Tolo TV.
In a separate incident, three girls on their way to school in the western city of Herat were attacked with acid on Saturday by men on a motorcyle, the provincial police chief said.
Two of the girls were hospitalized after the attack and are recovering after treatment.
"We are investigating the incident but fortunately the burns were not serious," police chief Abdul Majeed Rozi said.
(Additional reporting by Jalil Rezayee in Herat; writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)