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.
"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.
International Appeals for HelpHer 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.
Charges of blasphemy are so serious in Pakistan there have been cases of parents murdering their children if they have been accused of it.
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.
Salvini said Italy had nothing against the Pakistani government.
"The enemy is violence, extremism, and fanaticism," he said.
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 NU.nl reported.