Sabeen Mahmud, a leading Karachi-based human rights campaigner and proponent of free speech, was laid to rest on Saturday evening, a day after she was shot dead in Karachi by unidentified gunmen. She was on her way back home after from her cafe after concluding a talk on a the issue of missing persons in Balochistan province.
The murder is seen as a chilling reminder to Pakistan’s civil society not to highlight the issue of human rights abuses in the restive province. “We are all in shock over the killing. It is so blatant the way it has been done,” said Zaheer Kidwai, her friend and mentor.
Mahmud, the director and founder of The Second Floor (T2F) cafe, had hosted a session titled “Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2)” on Friday evening, featuring the chairperson of Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, Mama Qadeer. The session was earlier due to be held at an university in Lahore but was cancelled due to pressure from the ISI.
While Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif condemned the killing and ordered an investigation, the army distanced itself from the murder but said that it will help with the investigations.
Mahmud encouraged debate on controversial issues at her café, which was seen as an intellectual melting point in Karachi. “With her death a part of Karachi’s civil society has died,” said musician Ali Haider adding the café allowed budding musicians and artists to stage their work in an otherwise stifling atmosphere in the city.
This week also marks the first anniversary of the attack on leading anchor Hamid Mir, who accused the ISI of plotting to kill him because of a program he had hosted in which Mama Qadeer has been invited to speak. At the time, Qadeer had reached Islamabad as part of a walk to highlight the atrocities committed by the Pakistan forces in Balochistan.