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Italy offers to help relocate Pakistani woman in blasphemy case

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Italy offers to help relocate Pakistani woman in blasphemy case
This undated handout photo released to AFP on November 1 shows Asia Bibi, who had been on death row in Pakistan. Photo: British Pakistani Christian Association/AFP
11:50 CET+01:00
Italy's Foreign Ministry has said it is working with other countries to ensure safety for Asia Bibi, who was acquitted after being sentenced for blasphemy, after her family warned that her life is in danger.

“I want women and children whose lives are at risk to be able to have a secure future, in our country or in other Western countries, so I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee that,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told an Italian radio station yesterday.

“It is not permissible that in 2018 someone can risk losing their life for a ... hypothesis of blasphemy,” said Salvini, who is also interior minister.

Italy is working “discreetly” on the case with other countries, he said, to ensure safety for Bibi and her family.

Several countries have offered her asylum, after her husband Ashiq Masih sent desperate appeals to leaders of countries including the UK, US and Canada.

Earlier, the international Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) quoted Ashiq Masih as saying in a telephone call: “I appeal to the Italian government to help me and my family leave Pakistan. We are extremely worried because our lives are in danger. We don’t even have enough to eat because we can’t go out to buy food.”

A lawmaker in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party has also called for Germany to grant Bibi refuge.

Furious protests

Asia Noreen, known as Asia Bibi, was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a row with her neighbours. But Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted her last week.

Furious protests soon erupted in the country. Soon after the court verdict, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) group blocked roads in major cities of the country for three days, condemning the judges who acquitted Bibi.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline Islamist political group, protest last week after Bibi’s acquittal. Photo: ABDUL MAJEED / AFP

The TLP called off the protests after striking a deal with the government that could bar her from leaving the country and open a review of the judgement.

Aasia’s lawyer Saiful Mulook fled to the Netherlands because of fears for his safety.

Two prominent Pakistani politicians who spoke out in Aasia’s defence were assassinated in 2011.

Bibi's case has been closely followed in Italy for years, and Pope Francis met with her family earlier this year.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, an Italian, invited Masih and his family to Brussels or Strasbourg to "discuss how I can concretely facilitate the release" of Asia Bibi.

"We have asked the Pakistani authorities to guarantee your safety and of those protecting you," Tajani reportedly wrote in a letter to Masih, promising his personal intervention in the affair.

Since 1990, at least 65 people have reportedly been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy, the BBC reports.

The country’s Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.

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