The 25-year-old aid worker said her conversion to Islam was spontaneous and not forced, but far-right politicians still targetted her with hatred.
Italian aid worker Silvia Constanza Romano returned to her home in Rome on May 12 after being held captive for 18 months by Somali militants in east Africa.
Soon after her arrival, the news of her conversion to Islam made round on the internet. The declaration riled up Italy's far-right, with Nico Basso, a rightwing 'Venetist' town councillor in Asolo, sharing a photo of her on Twitter and saying “hang her”. He was quick to delete the post.
Romano insisted that it was not a forcible conversion as she became Muslim by choice during the captivity and took the name of Aisha.
"It was spontaneous and not forced. In these months I was given a Koran and thanks to my captors I also learned some Arabic,” she said.
“They explained their reasons and culture to me. My conversion process has been slow in recent months. There was no marriage or relationship, only respect."
Romano, 25, was kidnapped in Kenya's southeastern coastal town of Chakama in November 2018 and taken to Somalia.
The online hate campaign against her was so unrelenting that the Italian police said she may be given police protection.
Deputy of Lega, the far-right party under Matteo Salvini’s leadership, Alessandro Pagano attacked her for being “neo-terrorist” in his speech at the country’s chamber of deputies.
President of the Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico slammed hatefully addressed words, considering it violent and unacceptable.
President Fico added that the chamber is not a place to insult a young woman who has gone through 18 months of hell.
Le parole d'odio rivolte a Silvia Romano nell'aula della Camera sono violente e inaccettabili.@Montecitorio è il luogo del dibattito e del confronto, anche acceso, non la sede per formulare insulti a una giovane che viene da diciotto mesi di inferno.— Roberto Fico (@Roberto_Fico) May 13, 2020
Pagano’s words sparked debates among Italians while some saw his comment as part of institutionalised hate.
Le parole del deputato della #Lega Alessandro Pagano, che ha definito Silvia Romano "la neo-terrorista", non sono state dette dal classico odiatore seriale anonimo della rete, bensì da un uomo delle istituzioni. Si dovrebbe dimettere subito— David Parenzo (@DAVIDPARENZO) May 13, 2020
Many Italian Twitter users debated under the #SilviaRomanoAisha hashtag. Some users show their solidarity with her decision while some others targeting her decision of adopting another religion.
Gli attacchi a Silvia Romano dimostrano che l'emergenza Covid non ci ha resi migliori manco per un cazzo#SilviaRomanoAisha— Pietro Raffa (@pietroraffa) May 12, 2020
There are reports that Turkey's intelligence service played a vital role in tracing the whereabouts of Romano.
Italy's deputy foreign minister acknowledged Turkish cooperation during the rescue operation.
“There had been cooperation with the Turkish intelligence service to locate her and take action at the right time,” Marina Sereni told LA7 TV channel.