ROME: The ancient Colosseum of Rome was lit in red on Saturday in solidarity with persecuted Christians, particularly Asia Bibi, a woman condemned to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
It was a protest for them but a very embarrassing moment for Pakistanis which was made headline in international media. Hundreds gathered on a rainy night outside the Roman amphitheatre that is a symbol of the martyrdom of early Christians to hear the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi.
The Catholic woman has been living on death row in Pakistan since 2010, when she was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International say the blasphemy law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistan is to settle personal scores.“The aim of the blasphemy laws is crush people who believe differently,” Archbishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary-general of the Italian bishops conference, told the gathering. The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offense. There are no penalties for false accusations.
AsiaBibi’s case drew international attention after the murder of two politicians who tried to intervene on her behalf. At the Rome gathering, her husband Ashiq Masih said his wife was innocent of blasphemy. “This is just hate against Christians, who are considered impure,” he said. The husband and daughter, who broke down in tears asshe addressed the group, were earlier received by Pope Francis, who told her: “I think often of your mother and I pray for her”. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who has been tipped as a possible Italian prime minister after next week’s election, said that persecution of Christians was “a genocide”. “A message must be sent from this place.
It is the duty of Europe to defend these values (of religious liberty) wherever on earth they are trampled on,” Tajani said. Rebecca Bitrus, a Nigerian Christian woman who was held for two years after she was abducted by Boko Haram Islamist militants, told of how she was repeatedly beaten and raped. During the event, organised by the Catholic group “Aid to the Church in Need,” there were live link-ups with Aleppo, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, both of whose minority Christian populations have been hit hard by wars.
The family of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman imprisoned now for nearly nine years on blasphemy charges has renewed hope that new pressures on the Pakistani government may lead to her release. Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih, and her 18-year old daughter met with Pope Francis at the Vatican this past weekend.
The meeting occurred as the Roman Colosseum was bathed in red light at 6:00 pm Saturday in recognition of Christian martyrs of the faith. The meeting was reportedly emotional, and Pope Francis prayed with Ashiq, Eisham, and Nigerian Rebecca Bitrus, who was kidnapped and held by Boko Haram jihadists for two years. After meeting with the pope, Eisham told a reporter thatshe believes her mother will soon be released from prison, but the family must then flee Pakistan or they will be killed. Asia Bibi was jailed in June 2009 after her Muslim co-workers became upset over her use of a drinking cup.
Angry words were exchanged and they accused her of committing blasphemy against Mohammed. She was convicted and sentenced to death. In October 2016,Bibi appealed her case to the Pakistan Supreme Court. She’s still waiting for the appeal to be heard.