Italian politicians and officials said Rome could grant asylum to an Iranian lesbian who faces deportation from Britain and a possible death sentence back home. Meanwhile, gay rights proponents and left-wing politicians rallied for her cause in a protest on Monday outside the British embassy here.
Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, who fled to Britain in 2005 after her partner was arrested and tortured, is due to be expelled this week after her bid for residency was rejected, an advocacy group said.
Supporters in Britain are lobbying immigration authorities to show leniency. And activists in San Francisco have met with British representatives to press Emambakhsh's claim for asylum.
"If returned to Iran, she faces certain imprisonment, likely severe lashings and possibly even stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orientation," said Peter Tatchell, of London-based gay rights charity OutRage.
The main Italian gay rights group, Arcigay, led about 100 people in a protest on Monday evening outside the British embassy. Some left-wing politicians from parties in Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition joined the demonstration.
Arcigay has called on Prodi's government to offer Emambakhsh asylum.
"This life needs to be saved," Aurelio Mancuso, an Arcigay leader, yelled through a megaphone.
Government officials, including Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, have told reporters that Italy is ready to welcome the woman.
Italy, like other EU countries, does not have the death penalty, and began a push at the UN earlier this year for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.
Homosexuality is considered a crime in Iran and can carry the death penalty. In 2005, the Islamic regime hanged two teenagers on charges of homosexual acts.
Britain's Home Office declined to comment on Emambakhsh's case, saying it cannot discuss individual asylum cases.
Richard Caborn, a former British sports minister and a lawmaker for the northern English city of Sheffield, where Emambakhsh has lived since 2005, said he had won a temporary delay of her deportation and was planning to press British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith over the case.
"Maybe they wanted proof, but I don't know what proof I could have offered," Italian daily La Repubblica quoted Emambakhsh as saying on Sunday. "I'd rather die than go back to Iran, where something more terrible and painful than death awaits me."