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Italy Working To Find Safe Home In West For Pakistani Christian Woman


Many Pakistanis protested the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been charged with blasphemy. (file photo)

Italian officials say they are working to help relocate a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan to a country where she and her family would be safe from death threats.

"We are working with other Western countries. We must do it discreetly and carefully," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told an Italian radio station on November 6.

"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," he said.

Asia Bibi last week was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Pakistani Supreme Court, but her case prompted three days of protests by hard-line Islamist groups demanding that she and the judges who ruled in her favor be put to death.

Authorities arrested hundreds during the protests, which produced gridlock in major cities in Pakistan. But in a deal to end the demonstrations, the government agreed to keep Bibi in custody pending an appeal of the court decision.

Salvini, a populist politician known for his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, said Italy does not blame Pakistan's government for Bibi's plight. "The enemy is violence, extremism, and fanaticism," he told the radio station.

"Obviously this goes hand in hand with rejecting illegal immigration, which otherwise risks bringing chaos to Rome or Milan," he said.

Salvini spoke after the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Vatican organization which helps persecuted Christians, released a message from Bibi's husband.

"I ask and appeal to the Italian government to help me and my family leave Pakistan because we are in danger," Ashiq Masih was quoted as saying by the organization.

Masih said he has had trouble feeding his family because he fears being attacked if he leaves his place of hiding.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani -- an Italian- - tweeted that he invited Masih and his family to Brussels or Strasbourg to "discuss how I can concretely facilitate the release" of his wife.

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

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2011 by a district court in the central province of Punjab for allegedly committing blasphemy in a dispute with Muslim women while working at a farm. Bibi, who sat on Pakistan's death row for eight years, always denied the charges.

Meanwhile, Bibi's lawyer, who fled to The Netherlands earlier this week because of death threats, said on November 6 that he was seeking asylum there.

"I am waiting for an offer from the Dutch government," the Dutch news website NU.nl quoted lawyer Saiful Mulook as saying.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP, and Reuters
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