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Mr. Kambakhsh, a devout Muslim, was accused of authoring the article in question, though it was later proved that he only distributed it to classmates, according to a February report by Reporters Without Borders. He remains on death row.

The case was fabricated by crooked authorities to put pressure on Mr. Kambakhsh’s brother, a respected journalist who has aggressively investigated abuses by powerful warlords in the north, the report added.

Death threats and intimidation are not limited to the provinces, however.

Nasser Fayez, an outspoken Kabul TV anchor, was arrested and kept in a cell for two days by Afghanistan’s secret service, the NDS, after airing a series of shows heavily critical of President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet. Mr. Fayez has since gone into hiding and says armed agents have staked out his home.

“The pressure is coming from all sides, and I want to get out of here,” Mr. Fayez said by phone, having refused to meet in person for safety reasons.

There was no comment from the NDS, implicated in a host of similar incidents against journalists.

In a related case, the U.S. military said last week that it had freed Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, an employee of a Canadian TV network, who was held as an “enemy combatant” at an American air base in Afghanistan for more than 10 months.

The Afghan government maintains that it fully supports press freedom, though some officials argue that critical reporting on sensitive security issues at a time of war must be hedged if deemed harmful to the national interest.

Najib Manalai, an adviser to the minister of information and culture, readily admitted that the secret service has abused its mandate, and that influential figures with “ideological reflexes” or “self-preservation interests” continue to take matters into their own hands.

But, he added, wrongful actions do not reflect a change in democratic principles.

“Mistakes from time to time are not a step back but a step to be corrected,” he said. “The freedom of media in Afghanistan is not at stake.”