Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading an internet report on women's rights, is to be moved from his current prison to one in Kabul.
Mr Kambaksh has been attacked at his current place of incarceration near Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country by fundamentalist inmates at the instigation of the prison guards, his family claim. They also say that he is being held in a small cell that he has to share with 30 others.
But family members said yesterday that they had been told unofficially that the 23-year-old journalism student would be transferred to the Afghan capital in the near future.
The immediate effect of this would be to extract him from the hands of the religious authorities who have pressed for his execution and demanded that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, should not grant a reprieve in response to international pressure.
Relations and friends of Mr Kambaksh are worried that he remains in danger as long as he is kept in his current jail. They believe that, as worldwide protests over the case keep growing and the lobbying of President Karzai by public figures continues, the student may fall victim to a convenient "accident".
A member of Mr Kambaksh's family said: "He is being kept by the same people who wish him dead. They have total power in that part of the country and we really fear that anything can happen. The people who put him in prison are very angry about all the international attention this has raised. They can say that he was attacked by a fellow prisoner, or they can even say that he tried to escape. How can anyone disprove something like that?
"We believe that moving him from that jail is the first move in getting him to safety, and we are very grateful that it is now a good possibility. But freeing him is still a long way away and we are praying that the President will use his powers and pardon him."
Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, raised the case of Mr Kambaksh with President Karzai during a recent meeting in Kabul. The Afghan leader has promised that "justice will be done" for the student.
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Mr Kambaksh's brother, is also a journalist and has written articles exposing abuse, including murder, by powerful political figures. The family feel that one reason Mr Kambaksh was arrested was to put pressure on Yaqub, who is himself now in hiding. "We hope that the same pressure which is helping to save Pervez can protect Yaqub as well," said the family member.
Mr Kambaksh was sentenced to death for blasphemy at the end of last month by a religious court in Mazar-i-Sharif for distributing an article on Koranic verses that deal with women. Part of the article, which he found on an Iranian website, discussed whether a Muslim man should have the right to marry more than one woman.
The severity of the sentence provoked international outrage, and an online petition launched by The Independent to save the student has been supported by more than 86,000 people.Reuse content