The city of Venice has supported the decision of the Italian government to offer asylum to a lesbian due to be deported back to Iran today.

Pegah Emambakhsh is currently being detained by British officials. Her sexual orientation and her past life in Iran may lead to her being executed.

Even if she is not sentenced to death, she is likely to be prosecuted and tortured by Iran’s religious officials.

Punishment for sexual intercourse among lesbians in Iran is 100 lashes and in case of recidivity, execution. Her story is front-page news in Italy, while the UK press has largely ignored her plight.

Last week the Italian equal opportunties minister Barbara Pollastrini said she has Italy’s prime minister Romano Prodi’s support over granting asylum to Ms Emambakhsh.

Yesterday Italian gay and human rights groups staged a noisy protest rally at the British Embassy in Rome demanding that Ms Emambakhsh be spared deportation.

Today the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, issued the following statement:

“In its recent past Venice has already been a refugee-town for persecuted people, and within this tradition it is ready to host the Iranian woman, at least for the first period of time: the city of Venice, in cooperation with other bodies committed to save Pegah Emambakhsh, places a secure living facility at the woman’s disposal.

“By launching this appeal and offer, I am certain I am expressing a common feeling of the whole town and its traditional culture.”

The 40-year-old Iranian sought asylum in the UK in 2005.

She had escaped from her home country after her partner was arrested, tortured, and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning.

Her father was also arrested, interrogated and tortured for information on her whereabouts.

The claim for asylum was rejected by the UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA), despite her appeals.

Ms Emambakhsh was finally arrested in Sheffield earlier this month and taken to Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire.

She is due to leave the UK today, but campaigners are hopeful that British authorities may again delay her deportation.