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Rome’s ancient Colosseum turned red to protest Pakistan blasphemy law

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ROME — Rome’s ancient Colosseum was lit in red on Saturday in solidarity with persecuted Christians, particular­ly Asia Bibi, a woman condemned to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

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 Pakistanis 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. Asia Bibi’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 as she 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,” Mr. Tajani said. —

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