Leading article: The price of free speech

The idea that any individual in any country should face execution for downloading information from the internet is as abhorrent as it is incomprehensible. That this should be happening in a nation whose government benefits from the military and financial support of Western countries, Britain included, should give us great pause for thought. Pervez Kabaksh, 23, is a student at an Afghan university and a journalist. He was arrested last year after downloading material about the role of women in Islamic societies. We can well imagine that the material was not flattering to, or particularly consonant with, some of the precepts of Islam. Mr Kambaksh was charged, and last week convicted, of blasphemy. He had pleaded not guilty.

The United Nations criticised the conduct of the trial, in which Mr Kambaksh had no legal representation. There were hopes that the upper house of the Afghan legislature would at least commute the death sentence. In the event, however, the Senate leader signed his approval without calling a vote.

The Afghan government says the judgment is not final. This is why it is vital that anyone who values free speech should join the campaign to reverse this quite unwarranted sentence. When Hamid Karzai became President of Afghanistan, it was on a platform that included religious tolerance, in stark contrast to the rule of the routed Taliban.

It is surely worth asking what sort of a country Afghanistan is now becoming, if girls who go want to go to school risk being killed and young men are threatened with death for downloading information from the internet.