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Afghan sentenced to death after sharing Web printouts

Twenty-three-year-old jailed for downloading and distributing articles insulting Islam, according to reports. Free-press groups urge president to intervene.

A 23-year-old Afghani journalism student is facing a death sentence in his home country for distributing articles allegedly critical of Islam that he had printed from a Web site, according to various news reports.

The decision was handed down Tuesday by a three-judge panel in Kabul, Afghanistan after a secret, closed-door trial at which the student, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, reportedly had no lawyer. Kambakhsh, who has been jailed since October, plans to appeal the latest ruling.

Although there are some variations in news reports about what exactly the printed-out content discussed, it seems to be well-established that Kambakhsh himself did not author it. Instead, the articles came from a number of Web sites, including an Iranian-run blog, and reportedly took issue with the Koran's origins and declarations about women, according to Agence-France Presse, which cited the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association.

So what crime did Kambakhsh commit? According to the Associated Press, the judges arrived at their decision by citing Article 130 of the Afghan Constitution, which calls for "judicial discretion" when there is no provision in the constitution or other national laws to deal with a certain matter.

Court head Shamsurahman Momand was quoted by AFP as defending the decision on Wednesday, saying the student had been found to be "insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammad."

Local and international press freedom groups, such as Reporters Without Borders and the National Journalists Union of Afghanistan, immediately condemned the verdict as a violation of freedom of expression and called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to step in to overturn the ruling.

So far, the Afghan government has been standing by its decision. Various reports said Hafizullah Khaliqyar, the deputy provincial prosecutor who led the case, threatened at a news conference to throw all journalists who support Kambakhsh behind bars. According to Reporters Without Borders, he told the journalists that "Kambakhsh has confessed to the crime and must be punished."