A member of the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan holds a picture of Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh during a demonstration against his death sentence outside the United Nations office in Kabul on Thursday. ((Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press))

Afghanistan's Senate has withdrawn a statement supporting a court's decision to execute a journalist convicted of insulting Islam.

Last week a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif condemned 23-year-old Parwez Kaambakhsh for downloading allegedly blasphemous material from the internet.

The material, written in Farsi, the language of Iran, asked why a Muslim man may have four wives but women can't have multiple husbands.

The material also said Muslim fundamentalists err in their interpretation of the Qur'an by insisting women have to be subject to men.

Kaambakhsh, a journalism student, copied the material and gave it to other students.

The court said Kaambakhsh had confessed to blasphemy and had to be punished.

He can appeal to a higher court to amend the sentence.

But a statement on Wednesday by the Afghan Senate that praised the court's decision appeared to hurt his chances.

The death sentence prompted an angry demonstration Thursday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Mohammad Asif, one of the protesters at the rally, said they want the government and international community to either release Kaambakhsh or review his case.

"If we do not get a positive response to our demands, we will continue protesting, and if we do not get a positive result after protesting and if Parwez Kaambakhsh is not be released, then we will decide what to do next," said a protester who would only give her name as Sabina.

International petition started

The Afghan Senate withdrew its endorsement of the death penalty on Thursday.

Kaambakhsh is the younger brother of another journalist, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who has written investigative reports exposing human rights abuses.

The Institute of War and Peace Reporting has said the case against Kaambakhsh may have been designed by warlords in Northern Afghanistan to silence his brother.

Groups around the world supporting freedom of expression have condemned the sentence.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Britain's Independent newspaper has started an international petition demanding Kaambakhsh's release.

With files from the Associated Press