Kabul, Feb.3 : The Afghan Senate has withdrawn its confirmation of a death sentence on Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student convicted of blasphemy for downloading a report on women's rights from the internet.
The move follows widespread international protests and appeals to the President, Hamid Karzai, after the case was highlighted by The Independent and more than 38,000 readers signed the paper's petition to secure justice for Kambaksh.
In Britain, the campaign was backed by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The first ruling by the Senate supporting the death sentence on Kambaksh by a religious court in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country, was proposed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of President Karzai, and was seen as a severe blow to the 23-year-old journalism student's chances of avoiding execution.
The new stance, in which the Senate calls its previous decision "a technical mistake", significantly raises hopes that he will eventually be freed.
Kambaksh's family and friends had earlier complained that he was not allowed legal representation at his trial, which was held in secret.
The Senate statement, read out by Aminuddin Muzafari, secretary to the upper house, said: "The position of the upper house regarding distributing anti-Islamic articles, via an Iranian website, was that the upper house approved of the prosecution of such acts by the judiciary. The nature of the sentence, considering the judiciary's independence, would be up to the court itself.
"The upper house respects the rights of the accused, such as the right to have a defence lawyer, the right of appeal and other legal rights. But approval of the death sentence, in the statement published recently from the address of the upper house, was a technical mistake."
According to The Independent, Kambaksh can now petition the court of appeal against both his conviction and sentence, and, afterwards, the Supreme Court. If he fails there, he can appeal directly to President Karzai for pardon.