ROME: Italian lawmakers and religious associations protested in Rome Wednesday against Pakistan’s blasphemy law, calling for the release of a Christian woman sentenced to death under the legislation.
Catholic and Jewish associations joined human rights group Amnesty International and representatives of the Pakistani community in Italy in a 100-strong demonstration in front of the Italian parliament.
“We want this law to be abolished,” Pakistani-born Joseph Philip told AFP, explaining that his uncle, a Catholic Bishop, had been killed for his religious beliefs. He said he had come to the protest along with 15 compatriots.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old, Christian mother-of-five, was sentenced to death in November after Muslim women labourers who worked with her in the fields complained she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.
Umberto Bossi, head of Italy’s anti-immigrant and populist Northern League Party and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s partner in the centre-right coalition, attended Wednesday’s protest here.
“We want to express our solidarity,” he told journalists. A delegation from the protest also met Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Last Thursday the European parliament urged Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon and release Bibi following calls from several countries, international organisations and an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI.
European parliamentarians also called on the Pakistani government to revise their blasphemy laws and their application.
Their request followed the January 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead by a police commando after calling for reform of the blasphemy law used to sentence Bibi to death.
Taseer’s killing met with mixed reactions in Pakistan, with many from the country’s conservative religious quarter praising the gunman for acting to silence the outspoken moderate politician.