The Taliban-style intimidation of Afghan newspapers came to the surface after a journalist was sentenced to death for distributing an article deemed to have "insulted Islam".
Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh`s crime was to have passed around a piece taken from a website questioning why Muslim women cannot have multiple husbands in the same way as their menfolk can legally take four wives.
Mr Kaambakhsh, who works for "The New World", a newspaper in Afghanistan`s northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was prosecuted for downloading this article, apparently gleaned from an Iranian website, and distributing it to his friends.
On Tuesday, a court found him guilty of "insulting Islam" and sentenced him to death.
"Based on the crimes Parwez Kaambakhsh committed, the primary court sentenced him to the most serious punishment which is the death penalty," said Hafizullah Khaliqyar, the province`s deputy attorney general.
No lawyer represented Mr Kaambakhsh, 23, during the critical hearing, which appears to have taken place in secret in Mazar-i-Sharif. The journalist will appeal against the verdict and both Afghan and international campaigners denounced his treatment.
"This is unfair, this is illegal," said Rahimullah Samander, president of the Afghan Independent Journalists` Association (AIJA). "This is too big for a small mistake - he just printed a copy and looked at this and read it. How can we believe in this `democracy` if we can`t even read, we can`t even study?"
The AIJA urged President Hamid Karzai to intervene in the case and quash the death sentence. The penalty must be confirmed by a higher court before it can be inflicted.
But campaigners believe that the court`s real motive was not protecting the honour of Islam. Mr Kaambakhsh`s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, also works as a journalist and has written a series of reports on atrocities committed by senior politicians in northern Afghanistan.
The authorities may have been trying to silence him by threatening Mr Kaambakhsh`s life. Jean MacKenzie, country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which trains Afghan journalists, said: "We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parwez`s brother, Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces."
The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 brought a new era of media freedom in Afghanistan. Dozens of newspapers and television stations have sprung up across the country. In practice, however, the authorities are deeply suspicious of journalists and all media outlets face pressure and