Italy Steps up to Offer Refuge to Pakistani Christian Woman Acquitted of Blasphemy


Italy is ready to offer sanctuary to a Pakistani Christian woman and her family following her acquittal on a charge that she blasphemed against Islam.

The proposal makes Italy the first Western country to publicly lend support to Asia Bibi, an illiterate mother of five, imprisoned for eight years after being sentenced to death for allegedly insulting an Islamic prophet.

The U.K. and Canada were also approached but have maintained an offical silence.

Bibi’s acquittal on the blasphemy charge by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week sparked fury in the Muslim-majority country and led to public calls for her immediate execution.

The Pakistani penal code proscribes a variety of punishments for blasphemy against Islam generally. Blasphemy against the person of Muhammad, however, demands a sentence of capital punishment.

A statement by the Italian Foreign Ministry said it is prepared to implement any decision by the government to help Bibi, the Associated Press reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said he would do “everything humanly possible” to secure Bibi’s safety in his country.

Bibi’s case has been closely followed in Italy for years, and Pope Francis met earlier this year with her family in a show of solidarity.

Salvini distinguished between Bibi’s case of proven persecution and the tens of thousands of economic migrants who try to illegally enter Italy via smugglers’ boats from Libya.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been repeatedly criticised for his silence on the matter.

Amnesty International’s South Asia Deputy Director, Omar Waraich, said Khan must uphold the Supreme Court’s acquittal and work for Bibi’s immediate release and safe travel with her family to another country.

“Khan swept to power earlier this year on promises to restore the rule of law, to champion the oppressed and marginalised, and to deliver justice,” Waraich said.

“His party is, after all, called the Movement for Justice. But what does that even mean when, in the space of just two days, he went from warning the mob against using violence, to bowing to their demands?”

Meanwhile, the attorney who represented Bibi, Saif-ul-Mulook, is reported to be in fear for his life and is seeking asylum from the Netherlands.

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