Pope Francis met with and prayed for the family of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, in the Vatican, and was urged to speak to Pakistan's government for her release.
"We are here in Italy to make sure we can be the voice of an innocent woman who has been suffering in jail for six years," Catholic News Agency quoted the woman's husband, Ashiq Masih, as saying after the brief meeting with the pontiff.
"Since the day Asia Bibi was arrested, our family is totally destroyed. The children cannot survive without their mother. Asia Bibi misses her children, the children miss her," Masih added.
The family met the pope after his Wednesday General Audience.
Last October, the Lahore High Court upheld the death penalty of Bibi.
She was sentenced in 2010 following an incident in 2009 where she was harvesting berries with a group of Muslim women and accused by them of drinking from the same water bowl as them. An argument followed, and those women went to a local cleric and told him that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam.
Allegations of blasphemy often "stem from the Muslim accuser's desire to take revenge" and to "settle petty, personal disputes," according to Pakistan's Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, or CLAAS.
"Asia's faith is very strong, but she cries. All of our family is praying to God to help her, and so we appeal to international community," Masih was quoted as saying. "The life of Christians in Pakistan is very difficult … every Christian is in danger in Pakistan."
The majority of Pakistan's population is Muslim, and Masih said, "most of them are against Asia Bibi, they don't want her to be set free… If Asia Bibi will be free, she cannot stay in Pakistan, she should move abroad very quickly."
"The accusations against her are false," Bibi's 14-year-old daughter, Isham, was quoted as saying at a press conference in Italy least week. "My mother was working when two women asked her for water to drink. When my mother gave them the water, they began saying their hands were impure, that Christians are not dignified to eat and drink with Muslims, who are clean. On this basis, the accusation of blasphemy was built."
The family has requested the pope to encourage the Pakistani government to release her.
Her lawyer, Joseph Nadeem, is hopeful.
"We still have the hope of a presidential pardon," he was quoted as saying.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, carry death penalty, and yet there is no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.