Italy Offers Asylum to Christian Pakistani Woman Facing Death Threats After Blasphemy Acquittal

November 7, 2018 Updated: November 7, 2018

A Christian Pakistani woman who is facing death threats in her home country has been offered asylum in Italy.

While her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy against Islam was overturned last month by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Asia Bibi and her husband, Ashiq Masih, have been barred from leaving the country. The decision sparked protests by Islamic groups, with calls for Bibi’s execution and the murder of the judges.

Pakistan has a tiny Christian population, and Bibi’s case has been taken up by a number of Christian and human-rights groups.

A supporter of Tehreek-e-Labaik, a hardline religious political party, holds a placard reading "Hang Asia"
A supporter of Tehreek-e-Labaik, a hard-line, religious political party, holds a placard during a protest in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Oct. 12, 2018. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

“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 [for Bibi],” Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.  “It is not permissible that in 2018 someone can risk losing their life for a … hypothesis of blasphemy.”

Bibi, 47, and the mother of five, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory remarks about Islam to her neighbors. They reportedly objected to her drinking water from their glass because she isn’t Muslim. Bibi denies the charges.

After being convicted and sentenced to death, she spent eight years on death row. Following her acquittal on appeal, the Tehreek-e-Labaik party blocked major roads in Pakistan’s biggest cities for three days, demanding the murder of the Supreme Court judges who made the decision.

International Appeals for Help

Her husband turned to Italy after previously appealing to the United States, Britain, and Canada.

The international Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) quoted 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,” he told the agency.

The ACN is demanding protection for Christians in countries where they are a minority. In Pakistan, Islam is the state religion and practiced by 95 percent of the population, according to a 1998 government census.

A Pakistani supporter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hardline religious party, holds an image of Asia Bibi
A Pakistani supporter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hard-line religious party, holds an image of Asia Bibi during a protest rally following the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Bibi of blasphemy, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Nov. 2, 2018. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Charges of blasphemy are so serious in Pakistan there have been cases of parents murdering their children if they have been accused of it.

Amnesty International said that the blasphemy law has been exploited by people in Pakistan to settle personal scores.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands because of fears for the safety of his family, and two Pakistani politicians who spoke out in Bibi’s defense were assassinated in 2011.

Lawyer Saiful Mulook
After fleeing Pakistan, Lawyer Saiful Mulook gives a press conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Nov. 5, 2018. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

Salvini said Italy had nothing against the Pakistani government.

“The enemy is violence, extremism, and fanaticism,” he said.

Salvini has been critical of Islam before, saying in Feb. 2018, according to the Times of London, “The problem with Islam is that it is a law, not a religion. In the name of God, it imposes a law which according to me is incompatible with our values, our rights, and our liberty.”

Canada has urged Pakistan to ensure the safety and security of Bibi and her family.

“It’s a very important issue, a central priority for our government,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Nov. 6. “Canada is prepared to do everything we can” and is “extremely engaged in this issue.”

Several members of the Dutch government have said they would support providing temporary shelter to Bibi if she manages to flee Pakistan.

Mulook said Nov. 6 that he is “waiting for an offer from the Dutch government” on his petition for political asylum, website reported.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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