Rome’s ancient Colosseum – a symbol of history of the Western civilization as well as Catholic Christianity – was lit up red tonight. It stood solid and crumbling in solidarity with Christians persecuted in Pakistan. The support especially went out for Asia Bibi, a woman condemned to death under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law.
Hundreds braved rains on the chilly night and gathered outside the Roman amphitheater – a symbol of martyrdom of early Christians – to hear Asia’s husband and daughter.
Asia, a Catholic has been living on death row in Pakistan since 2010. She was reported by her neighbors for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Islam after they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was a non-Muslim.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International say the Blasphemy Law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.
“The aim of the Blasphemy Law is to 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 no evidence is required to be reproduced in court under guise of committing a fresh offense. To top it all, there are no penalties for false accusations.
Asia Bibi’s case drew international attention after the murder of two Pakistani politicians who tried to intervene on her behalf.
At the Rome gathering, her husband Ashiq Masih said his wife was innocent. “This is just hatred against Christians, who are considered impure,” he said.
The daughter, who broke down while addressing the group, were earlier received by Pope Francis along with her father. The Pope, who is the head of the Catholic Church told her: “I think often of your mother and pray for her”.
The European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, who is tipped to be the next Italian Prime Minister post 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 upon,” Tajani said.
Rebecca Bitrus, a Nigerian Christian woman who was held for two years after she was abducted by Boko Haram Islamist militants, told 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.