(CNN) -- A three-judge panel in northern Afghanistan has sentenced a student journalist to death for distributing a paper he printed off the Internet that allegedly blasphemed Islam, according to international media groups.
But media groups in the country say the journalist is in fact being punished for investigative pieces his brother wrote.
Those articles exposed human rights abuses by political and paramilitary factions in northern Afghanistan.
Sayed Perwiz Kaambaksh, 23, was tried behind closed doors and without representation in Mazar-e-Sharif Tuesday, the group Reporters Without Borders said.
Soon after, the deputy provincial prosecutor in charge of the case threatened to imprison any reporter who expressed support for Kaambaksh, the group said in a statement.
The charges of distributing anti-Islamic propaganda are based on a document that Kaambaksh downloaded from the Internet last October and shared with students at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif where he is a journalism student.
Prosecutors said the article commented on verses in the Quran that dealt with women, and they deemed the work offensive to Islam. Kaambaksh has denied authoring the document, saying that his name was added to the paper after it was printed.
Media groups in the country believe Kaambaksh was actually arrested for articles his brother wrote that criticized provincial authorities.
"(The brother) feels very strongly that it's a campaign of intimidation against him and others like him who might want to take on these powerful commanders," Jean Mackenzie, country director of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, told CNN.
The brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, is one of the leading independent journalists in the region and has written numerous stories that detail human rights abuses, MacKenzie said.
Among his best-known pieces was an expose of the "dancing boys," teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for male patrons at parties thrown by some commanders in northern Afghanistan.
In other reports, Ibrahimi has named government officials who extort money from locals, MacKenzie said.
The day after Kaambaksh was arrested, authorities paid Ibrahimi a visit and combed through his computer and notebooks looking for names of sources who helped him in his reporting, MacKenzie said.
"This is why we think this is tied to (Ibrahimi)," she said.
The case now goes to an appeals court, and various media organizations have appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene.
"(Ibrahimi) is a very brave reporter and I've never known him to falter," MacKenzie said. "But having his brother sentenced to death has made him very, very anxious." E-mail to a friend
CNN's Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report.