In a case that has illustrated Afghanistan's drift toward a more radically conservative brand of Islam as well as the fragility of its legal system, an appeals court Tuesday overturned a death sentence for a student convicted of blasphemy but sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
The student, Parwez Kambakhsh, 24, ran afoul of Afghan authorities last year when he circulated an article about women's rights under Islam after downloading it from the Internet. He was studying at the time in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he also worked as a part-time journalist for local newspapers.
Arrested by security police and initially held without charges, he was eventually tried on blasphemy charges, convicted and sentenced to death.
Tuesday's ruling by a three-judge appeals court panel was a blow to human rights groups and advocates of press freedom who have championed Kambakhsh's cause.
International organizations, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the case pointed to a troubling lack of respect for freedom of speech and individual liberties in Afghanistan, nearly seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban fundamentalist Islamic movement.