( dpa ) - New Zealand has joined international protests to the Afghan government about the death sentence passed on a student journalist for downloading material on women's rights from the internet, Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Saturday.
"We are deeply concerned by the sentence passed on this young man for exercising freedom of speech," she said in a statement confirming that her government had made formal diplomatic representations to Afghanistan.
"The New Zealand government has made a particular effort to support the strengthening of human rights in Afghanistan through funding for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission," Clark said.
Noting that Sayed Parweiz Kambakhsh, 23, had been sentenced to death for distributing a report considered to be blasphemous and offensive to Islam, she said, " Afghanistan presents a difficult environment for journalism, with increasing threats and intimidation reported against journalists."
Kambakhsh distributed and used the report about women's rights in Islam as a basis for discussion during lectures at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan.
He was then tried and sentenced to death by the Balkh Province primary court on January 22. He has appealed the sentence.
"Mr Kambakhsh's detention and trial have been marked by a number of irregularities, including the fact that he had no legal counsel," Clark said.
She said his case was reported to have been raised with President Hamid Karzai by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband during their recent visit to Afghanistan.
"President Karzai has given assurances that justice will be done in this case," Clark said. "I believe it is important that New Zealand adds its voice to those of others concerned for the future of this young man."
New Zealand has contributed troops, police and aid to Afghanistan since 2001 and Clark announced in November that it would continue to deploy about 130 troops and police on reconstruction, training and peacekeeping operations until at least September 2009.