‘Just over a fortnight ago, a similar talk with the same speakers at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), was cancelled at the last minute “on orders from the government”, according to a LUMS statement.’
Pakistani rights activist Sabeen Mahmud shot dead
Prominent rights activist killed shortly after hosting a talk on people missing in Balochistan at her Karachi cafe.
Asad Hashim | 24 Apr 2015
Karachi, PAKISTAN – Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist, has been shot dead, shortly after hosting an event on Balochistan’s “disappeared people”, in the southern city of Karachi, officials have told Al Jazeera.
Mahmud, 40, was the director of T2F [The Second Floor], a café and arts space that has been a mainstay of Karachi’s activists since it opened its doors in 2007. She was one of the country’s most outspoken human rights advocates.
Mahmud was shot four times at close range, with bullets going through her shoulder, chest and abdomen, police told Al Jazeera. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the National Medical Centre hospital at 9.40pm.
Mahmud had been on her way from the event, along with her mother, when her car came under fire from unidentified gunmen, according to police.
Her mother was also shot twice, but was undergoing treatment at hospital and was out of immediate danger, hospitals officials said.
Mahmud had been present at the opening of a discussion called “Unsilencing Balochistan,” hosted at T2F, where prominent Baloch rights activists Mama Qadeer, Farzana Majeed and Muhammad Ali Talpur had been speaking.
Qadeer and Majeed have long championed the cause of Balochistan’s “disappeared,” a term used to describe people who have been abducted in Balochistan, with their bodies often found years later. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons organisation, which both activists belong to, says that more than 2,825 people have “disappeared” in this way since 2005.
They allege the disappearances, which are mostly of Baloch rights activists and students, have been carried out by the Pakistani government and its powerful ISI intelligence agency, a charge the agency denies.
Just over a fortnight ago, a similar talk with the same speakers at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), was cancelled at the last minute “on orders from the government”, according to a LUMS statement.
“Sabeen got in touch with me on Tuesday to ask for advice about whether she should go ahead with the event. She was having doubts, and the person who had initially agreed to moderate the discussion had backed out,” a friend of Mahmud’s told Al Jazeera following the shooting. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns for his own safety.
“We discussed the possible blowback that she and T2F could potentially get in response to holding the event, but I never imagined it would be as brutal and blatant as this.”
Another friend of Sabeen’s, who raced to the hospital minutes after she had been shot, said “at least a hundred people” had gathered outside the hospital within moments for the activist.
“I raced through the hospital corridors to get to the ER envisioning a defiant Sabeen who was going to laugh at her own plaster or dressing,” the second friend said.
“She stood up and hosted an event for a group of people who have no voice despite the threats she had gotten. She did not back down – gave her life.
“She’s been silenced to instill fear in the heart of the upper-middle class, the English-speaking folk who have become politically vocal for rights and equality.”
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest, and least densely populated province, has been the site of multiple armed guerilla campaigns against the state by separatist forces, the latest of which is ongoing since 2005. Home to about 13 million of Pakistan’s 190 million population, the province is the least economically developed, and has the worst social indicators in areas such as health and education.
Pakistan’s armed forces have been battling the separatists through ground and air operations, and many parts of the province are cut off from the rest of Pakistan due to the conflict.
Baloch rights activists say intelligence agencies have also been carrying out a systematic campaign of silencing dissent through the disappearance of activists, even those who have not taken up arms.
Nasrullah Baloch, the chairman of the Voice of Missing Baloch rights organisation, said his group condemned the attack, and said those responsible should be tried for their crimes.
“Whenever voices are raised against rights abuses in Balochistan, the government tries to suppress them. Suppressing voices does not solve the issue, indeed it only makes us the voices become louder.”