News | World News | Asia Bibi offered asylum in Italy after Matteo Salvini condemns her blasphemy conviction

Asia Bibi offered asylum in Italy after Matteo Salvini condemns her blasphemy conviction

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Christian woman rescued from death row following blasphemy charge is moved ‘for security reasons’ from Pakistan prison to Islamabad

  • The 2010 death sentence against Asia Bibi, 53, was overturned last week
  • Accused of insulting Prophet Mohammed during an argument over cup of water
  • Hardline Islamists protested, demanding that she be executed for alleged crime
  • Bibi has been banned from leaving Pakistan, despite threats against her life
  • Italy has offered her asylum and Deputy PM Matteo Salvini is working to help her

By Sara Malm and Miranda Aldersley For Mailonline

Published: 04:36 EST, 7 November 2018 | Updated: 13:24 EST, 7 November 2018

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A Christian woman acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy is being flown to Pakistan's capital Islamabad from an undisclosed location in Punjab province for security reasons.

The move comes a week after Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, 53, in a landmark ruling and ordered her release, a move that triggered violent nationwide protests.

Ms Bibi's release was put on hold on Friday after authorities held talks with radical Islamists who want her publicly hanged.

What is next: Ms Bibi is set to be freed from prison, but the family has said it is going to be too dangerous for them to stay in Pakistan. She is now being flown to Pakistan's capital Islamabad from an undisclosed location in Punjab province for security reasons
What is next: Ms Bibi is set to be freed from prison, but the family has said it is going to be too dangerous for them to stay in Pakistan. She is now being flown to Pakistan's capital Islamabad from an undisclosed location in Punjab province for security reasons

What is next: Ms Bibi is set to be freed from prison, but the family has said it is going to be too dangerous for them to stay in Pakistan. She is now being flown to Pakistan's capital Islamabad from an undisclosed location in Punjab province for security reasons

She was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Islam's prophet and she was sentenced to death in 2010. 

Meanwhile, Italy said it was working to help her leave her home country, after Islamists threaten to kill her.  

Demonstrations, which saw thousands call for Ms Bibi and her legal team to be executed, only subsided after the government agreed that the mother-of-five would be banned from leaving Pakistan after her release.

However, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister has sworn to do 'everything humanly possible' to overturn the ban, and get Ms Bibi and her family safely to Italy or any other Western nation.

Help: Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has sworn to do 'everything humanly possible' to overturn the ban on Asia Bibi leaving Pakistan, and to get her family safely to Italy
Help: Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has sworn to do 'everything humanly possible' to overturn the ban on Asia Bibi leaving Pakistan, and to get her family safely to Italy

Help: Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has sworn to do 'everything humanly possible' to overturn the ban on Asia Bibi leaving Pakistan, and to get her family safely to Italy

Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Islam's prophet and she was sentenced to death in 2010
Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Islam's prophet and she was sentenced to death in 2010
Demonstrations, which saw thousands call for Ms Bibi and her legal team to be executed, only subsided after the government agreed that the mother-of-five would be banned from leaving Pakistan after her release
Demonstrations, which saw thousands call for Ms Bibi and her legal team to be executed, only subsided after the government agreed that the mother-of-five would be banned from leaving Pakistan after her release

Controversial: Asia Bibi, 53, was sentenced to death in 2010, after being accused of insulting Islam during an argument over a water bowl with a group of Muslim women in Punjab

'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),' Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.

'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 and head of the far-right anti-immigrant League party, adding that Italy is working on the case with other Western countries.

Protests involving thousands of demonstrators demanding that Ms Bibi be hanged, spearheaded by the hardline Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, erupted moments after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction on Wednesday. 

The government of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan reached a deal with TLP and other Islamist groups on Friday to end the protests, with various levels of success, if Ms Bibi was banned from leaving Pakistan.

'There will be a war if they send Asia out of country,' TLP leader Cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi said after the deal was reached. 

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Ms Bibi's blasphemy conviction sparked violent protests, seen here on Sunday, calling for the mother-of-five to be executed
The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Ms Bibi's blasphemy conviction sparked violent protests, seen here on Sunday, calling for the mother-of-five to be executed

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Ms Bibi's blasphemy conviction sparked violent protests, seen here on Sunday, calling for the mother-of-five to be executed

The protests only subsided after Khan's government made a deal with hardline Islamist that they could appeal her release, and that Ms Bibi would have to stay in the country
The protests only subsided after Khan's government made a deal with hardline Islamist that they could appeal her release, and that Ms Bibi would have to stay in the country

The protests only subsided after Khan's government made a deal with hardline Islamist that they could appeal her release, and that Ms Bibi would have to stay in the country

Anger: Despite Friday's deal, the protests continued across Pakistan this weekend 
Anger: Despite Friday's deal, the protests continued across Pakistan this weekend 

Anger: Despite Friday's deal, the protests continued across Pakistan this weekend 

The threats against their lives have forced Ms Bibi's family into hiding, and pushed her lawyer to leave Pakistan. 

Saif-ul-Malook, 62,  fled to the Netherlands last week, and have since said he wants to remain on Dutch soil and hinted he would seek political asylum.  

Ms Bibi's daughter Eisham Masih, said the family have been forced to live on the move for fear of reprisals over the overturned verdict. 

'We have been moving around from home to home staying away from any places where people who hate us could find us. 

'Sometimes we have seen and heard the large riots and we have watched as little TV as possible - all it shows us is how many people hate us and want us dead.

'I have cried for joy when I heard my mother would be set free, I now cry for the despair of our situation only God can save us all.'

Plea: Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih, pictured with their daughter Eisham, has said the family are struggling to get enough food to eat while in hiding
Plea: Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih, pictured with their daughter Eisham, has said the family are struggling to get enough food to eat while in hiding

Plea: Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih, pictured with their daughter Eisham, has said the family are struggling to get enough food to eat while in hiding

Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih has said he is putting his hope in the Italian government, revealing the family are unable to get enough to eat as they cannot leave the house to buy food without help.  

Ms Bibi's case outraged Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot by his own bodyguard.    

The allegations against Ms Bibi date back to 2009, when she was working in a field near her home village in Sheikhupura, Punjab and was asked to fetch water.  

The Muslim women she was labouring with objected, saying that as a non-Muslim Ms Bibi was unfit to drink from the same water bowl as them.

Ms Bibi would later say that the women insulted her religion, to which she responded: 'I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?'

This prompted the Muslim women to go to a local imam and accuse Ms Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

Happier times: Asia Bibi is seen with her two youngest children Eisham, left, and her sister Esha, right, who has learning difficulties - now aged 18 and 17
Happier times: Asia Bibi is seen with her two youngest children Eisham, left, and her sister Esha, right, who has learning difficulties - now aged 18 and 17

Happier times: Asia Bibi is seen with her two youngest children Eisham, left, and her sister Esha, right, who has learning difficulties - now aged 18 and 17

Before Ms Bibi could be arrested on any official charges, a violent mob descended on their family home, and beat Ms Bibi up in front of her children. 

The abuse was so violent, police were called to the scene, but after rescuing the mother-of-five, they arrested her and threw her in jail - and a year later she was convicted of blasphemy.   

Blasphemy is a charge so sensitive in Pakistan that anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

The charge is punishable by a maximum penalty of death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. 

The law does not define what blasphemy constitutes, and evidence is often not reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

Despite this, calls for reform of the blasphemy law have regularly been met with violence and rejected. 

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