A young man, a journalism student, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet.
The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan - not in Taleban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.
The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about the erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan.
He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which said Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Muhammad.
Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University in Mazari Sharif, capital of Balkh province, with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without - say friends and family - legal representation and sentenced to death.
The United Nations, human rights groups, journalists' organisations and Western diplomats have urged Karzai's Government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion on Wednesday confirming the death sentence.
The MP who proposed the ruling condemning Kambaksh was Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Karzai. The Senate also attacked the international community for putting pressure on the Afghan Government and urged Karzai not to be influenced by outside unIslamic views.
The case of Kambaksh is seen in Afghanistan as yet another chapter in the escalation in the confrontation between Afghanistan and the West.
It comes after Karzai accused the British of worsening the situation in Helmand province by their actions and his subsequent blocking of the appointment of Lord Ashdown as the UN envoy and expelling a British and an Irish diplomat.
Demonstrations, organised by clerics, against the alleged foreign interference have been held in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where Kambaksh was arrested.
Aminuddin Muzafari, the first secretary of the Houses of Parliament, said: "People should realise as we are representatives of an Islamic country we can never tolerate insults to reverences of Islamic religion."
At a gathering in Takhar province, Maulavi Ghulam Rabbani Rahmani, head of the Ulema council, said: "We want the Government and the courts to execute the court verdict on Kambaksh as soon as possible."
In Parwan province, another senior cleric, Maulavi Muhammad Asif, said: "This decision is for disrespecting the holy Koran and the Government should enforce the decision before it came under more pressure from foreigners."
Kambaksh's brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, is also a journalist and has written articles for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in which he accused senior public figures, including an MP, of atrocities, including murders. He said: "Of course we are all very worried about my brother. What has happened to him is very unjust. He has not committed blasphemy and he was not even allowed to have a legal defence, and what took place was a secret trial."
Qayoum Baabak, the editor of Jahan-i-Naw, said a senior prosecutor in Mazar-i-Sharif, Hafiz Khaliqyar, had warned journalists they would be punished if they protested against the death sentence passed on Kambaksh.
Jean MacKenzie, country director for IWPR, said: "We feel very strongly that this is designed to put pressure on Pervez's brother, Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders."
Rahimullah Samander, the president of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, said: "This is unfair, this is illegal. He just printed a copy of something and looked at it and read it. How can we believe in this democracy if we can't even read, we can't even study? We are asking Mr Karzai to quash the death sentence before it is too late."
The circumstances surrounding the conviction of Kambaksh are also being viewed as a further attempt to claw back the rights gained by women since the overthrow of the Taleban. The most prominent female MP, Malalai Joya, has been suspended after criticising her male colleagues.
But even if he is freed, it would be hard for the student to escape retribution in a country where fundamentalists and warlords are increasingly in the ascendancy.
NO ROOM FOR DEBATE
WHAT HE DID
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh downloaded a report from the internet which said that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Muhammad.
WHY HE DID IT
He distributed the information to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University in Mazari Sharif, capital of Balkh province, with the aim, he said, of encouraging debate.
A complaint was made against him and he was accused of blasphemy, arrested, tried by religious judges, reportedly without being allowed legal representation, and sentenced to death. Despite pleas from the West, the Afghan Senate has passed a motion confirming the sentence.
- INDEPENDENTBy Kim Sengupta