Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Human Rights > Pakistan: The Killing of Sabeen Mahmud - a compilation of commentary, (...)

Pakistan: The Killing of Sabeen Mahmud - a compilation of commentary, statements and tributes

by, 7 May 2015

print version of this article print version - 2 May 2015

The Killing of Sabeen Mahmud:
A compilation of media commentary, statements by rights groups and tributes

1. Editorials in Dawn, The Daily Times and The Express Tribune
1.1 Editorials from outside Pakistan
2. Pakistan: Murdered on the streets of Karachi: my friend who dared to believe in free speech | Kamila Shamsie
3. Pakistan: “I stand up for what I believe in, but I can’t fight guns” - Sabeen Mahmud interview by Karima Bennoune
4. Pakistan: Crushing voices of dissent | Manan Ahmed Asif
5. South Asians for Human Rights Statement on the Killing of Sabeen Mahmud
6. #Rise4Sabeen: Keep the dialogue going | Beena Sarwar
7. Video Tribute to Sabeen Mahmud
8. Pakistan #Intellecticide: Vigils for Sabeen – who was she and why did she die? | Beena Sarwar
9. Vigils and protests for our slain comrade and friend Sabeen Mahmud are taking place in different cities of Pakistan and around the world.
10. Pakistan: WAF aggrieved over target killing of peace activist (26 April 2015)
11. Pakistan: The silencing of Sabeen
12. Pakistan’s Loss: A Beacon of Free Thought | Bina Shah


Editorial, DAWN (Dawn, April 26th, 2015)

THE assassination of Sabeen Mahmud, director of T2F, a self-described community space for open dialogue in Karachi, is a desperate, tragic confirmation that Pakistan’s long slide towards intolerance and violence is continuing, and even quickening. Profoundly troubling too are the circumstances surrounding Ms Mahmud’s murder. On Friday, T2F hosted the Baloch missing-persons activist Mama Qadeer, after the Lahore University of Management Sciences cancelled an event with Mr Qadeer earlier this month under pressure from the intelligence agencies. Mr Qadeer’s activism has been consistently opposed by the security establishment, to the point where few in the media or the activist community choose to interact with him now. Those who do engage with him often report threats. But clearly, in the tumultuous city of Karachi and given the variety of causes Ms Mahmud championed, the security agencies are not the only ones perceived as suspects in her assassination. Ms Mahmud’s work had attracted criticism and threats in the past, particularly from sections of the religious right, which viewed her promotion of the arts, music and culture with great hostility.

While only a thorough investigation can get to the root of the matter, what is clear is that there is not so much a war between ideas in Pakistan as a war on ideas. Free speech, robust debate, academic inquiry, the promotion of individual rights — anything that promotes a healthy, inclusive and vibrant society is seemingly under attack. Before Sabeen Mahmud there was Rashid Rehman, the lawyer and rights activist who was murdered for defending a college lecturer accused of blasphemy. Before Rashid Rehman there was Perween Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute, murdered in Karachi apparently for her work on behalf of poor people against the city’s land mafia. Before Perween Rehman there was Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head as a young teenager by the Taliban for championing the cause of female education. Before Malala, there were Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer, murdered for daring to question the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Each one of those victims may have been attacked for different reasons and by different groups, but all of them have one thing in common: they were fighting for a better, kinder, gentler Pakistan. And all of them used words and ideas, never weapons, to champion their causes. Pakistan is a poorer place for being without them — and in Malala’s case, for her being unable to return home.

Tragically, the state seems to have all but surrendered to the forces of darkness — that is when sections of the state themselves are not seen as complicit. Dialogue, ideas, debate, nothing practised and promoted peacefully is safe anymore. Instead, it is those with weapons and hateful ideologies who seem to be the safest now. Sabeen Mahmud is dead because she chose the right side in the wrong times.

Editorial - Daily Times, April 26, 2015

It is truly a sad day for Pakistan’s liberal, moderate and compassionate voices. It is a sorry time for all those who prize justice, freedom and humanity over and above everything else. There is a resounding silence within the confines of civil society in the whole of Pakistan, and in Karachi in particular, with the news of the coldblooded murder of a beacon of light that will shine no more in the port city. Sabeen Mahmud, the founder and director of The Second Floor (T2F) café, a space dedicated to open discussion, dynamic ideas, artistic endeavours and uncensored views, is with us no more. She was shot dead by the typically referred to ‘unidentified assassins’ who roam our nation’s streets extinguishing the few sources of light we have left. On her way home from a discussion event at T2F on Friday evening, travelling in her car with her mother, she was shot dead at point blank range. Her mother also sustained bullet wounds and is still fighting for her life. This was a targeted attack, of this there is no doubt, but why was this beautiful woman, this activist with a heart of gold, targeted so brutally? There are many fingers pointing in many directions but what needs to be taken stock of are the circumstances in which she was murdered, the coincidences involved and the need now to bring those who snuffed out this voice of reason to justice.

Sabeen was on her way home from hosting an event called Unsilencing Balochistan: Take 2, featuring the chairperson of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons Mama Qadeer, an activist and crusader for missing people in Balochistan. This is the same talk that was forcibly cancelled at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Balochistan is a very sensitive topic, with many using hushed tones to skirt around the issue. That Sabeen was hosting such a contested event has made it very easy for many to reach conclusions concerning those who would rather silence voices concerned with Balochistan than to hear anyone speak out about the issues. What we also know is that Sabeen was a moderate, a woman, a freethinker and inclusive soul. That makes her the kind of target militants would waste no time in eliminating. It has been reported that she also received death threats from Islamist militants. While the timing of her murder does seem suspicious and related to the event she had just hosted, one cannot say for sure which elements are involved.

Sabeen’s murder has been filed under the Anti-terrorism Act. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has announced that the intelligence agencies will assist in the investigation into her death. Now is the time for the nation to mourn her loss and the only way to do that is bring her killers to justice. Whoever they are, whatever their agenda, whatever the motive, Sabeen’s murder cannot be in vain. Pakistan has lost too many moderate and rational minds; it has suffered the loss of too many of its intellectuals and liberals. Sabeen was a symbol of the kind of Pakistan we want to leave for our children, an icon of free thought and progressive ideas. She will be missed because the kind of Pakistan we have now is a dead place, an airless wasteland with no sense or purpose.*

(The Express Tribune - April 26, 2015)

There are others but few have achieved what she did, establishing a space where her own values found a comfortable home and where those of a similar ilk were encouraged to flourish as well. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Sabeen Mahmud, murdered on April 24 as she drove to her home accompanied by her mother, was a woman who wanted to make a difference. She was the founder of The Second Floor (T2F), a cafe-cum-library-cum-performance space and gallery in Karachi. Over the last seven years T2F, as it was affectionately known, has quietly established a reputation as a venue where challenging ideas may get aired, boxes were there to be thought out of and music and dance were for the enjoyment of all. She was a high-profile social activist and champion of human rights, and some of her causes are unlikely to have found favour with powerful quarters. It is reported that she had received threats recently.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed his condolences at the killing of Sabeen Mahmud and vowed that her killers will be tracked down and caught. Desirable as this is, it is highly unlikely that they will ever be identified or punished. No organisation has claimed her murder and apart from her many friends around the world — she was a woman with an international profile — her death will quickly fade from public awareness.

There will be vigils attended by the dwindling band of liberals who are increasingly corralled in an ever-shrinking space, and she will become just another number in a wider statistic.

To be liberal and outspoken in the Pakistan of today is tantamount to painting a target in the middle of your forehead. Sabeen Mahmud was one of those who rose above the crowd, who may well have been afraid for her life but was undeterred, a woman of courage and principle. There are others but few have achieved what she did, establishing a space where her own values found a comfortable home and where those of a similar ilk were encouraged to flourish as well. It is to be hoped that somebody will pick up the baton she carried for the last decade and ensure that T2F continues as her legacy. Because there has to be somewhere in the looming gloom where we can rage against the dying of the light.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2015.

1.1 Editorials Outside Pakistan

#dnaEdit: Killing dissent in Pakistan
Daily News and Analysis (DNA) Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The murder of Sabeen Mahmud reveals a ruthless State determined to keep the Balochistan insurgency out of public discourse

Who killed Sabeen Mahmud? While Pakistani investigators get on with the task of identifying the actual killers who gunned down the activist in Karachi last week, the question is really about the forces behind the hand that pulled the trigger. And the answer points to sections of a State intolerant to voices raised in dissent, particularly when it comes to issues such as insurgency in Balochistan.

The killing of the much loved activist spotlights not just the shrinking space for free debate in a fragmented society but also the volatile situation in Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan’s provinces bordering Afghanistan and Iran, resource-rich and also the poorest where a military operation has been underway for many years to suppress a separatist movement.

The chronology of events is evidence enough to make the link between Mahmud’s murder on the evening of April 24 and the situation in Balochistan, where there have been allegations of gross human rights abuses and where thousands of people have gone missing over the years. The director of The Second Floor (T2F), described on its website as a “community space for open dialogue”, was driving home with her mother when unidentified gunmen opened fire in the city’s upscale Defence locality. The 40-year-old received five bullets and died on the way to the hospital while her mother was in a critical condition.

Just hours earlier, T2F had hosted a talk on Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2 by prominent Baloch activists to focus on rights abuses in the province. The same talk was originally scheduled to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) but was cancelled, reportedly at the instance of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI. The courageous, outspoken Mahmud, who has been the focus of rightwing ire for her liberal views, had then taken the decision to organise the event in Karachi.

Everybody knows who killed her and why, Mama Qadeer Baloch, who had addressed the gathering that evening, told a reporter. The 72-year-old, whose son went missing in 2009 and whose mutilated body was found two years later, had last year led a 3,000 km march from Quetta to Islamabad. As they analyse the ramifications of what Mahmud’s killing holds for Pakistani civil society, others have voiced the same suspicions. The demand for Baloch independence threatens the idea of a unified Pakistan and therefore the crackdown on the people of Balochistan — and those who speak up for them. The parallels with the situation in Kashmir and Pakistan’s animus with India are not just obvious but ironical too.

In a country where democracy is still taking baby steps and where the military continues to be all powerful, Mahmud is not the only one to have been killed. And Balochistan not the only issue. There have others before her, some silenced forever and others like Malala Yousufzai who survived the bullet. Malala has become a celebrated spokesperson for women’s education but from foreign lands, unable to return home. Their ‘causes’ have all been different, their motive the same — to push for a more inclusive, tolerant society that can withstand the forces of extreme violence and extreme regressive thought.

According to one columnist, to be liberal and outspoken in the Pakistan of today is tantamount to painting a target in the middle of your forehead. And Mahmud herself had told a magazine, “Fear is just a line in your head… You can choose what side of that line you want to be on.”

She chose her side. And paid for it. As the crisis for open discourse deepens, how many more will join the list of casualties?


Sabeen Mahmud singlehandedly created a counter-cultural haven for artists, writers and thinkers in her home city. And she paid for it with her life. Those of us left behind can only ask why

3. PAKISTAN: “I STAND UP FOR WHAT I BELIEVE IN, BUT I CAN’T FIGHT GUNS” - Sabeen Mahmud interview by Karima Bennoune

Sabeen Mahmud alleviated intellectual poverty until the day she was murdered, 24 April 2015. In an interview with Karima Bennoune in 2010 Mahmud explained why she founded a politico-cultural space in Karachi.
Sabeen Mahmud, founder of the NGO Peace Niche and director of Karachi’s cultural institution, T2F, was assassinated on Friday night while leaving the centre with her mother, who was also gravely injured in the attack. T2F had just hosted an event about human rights in Balochistan, and Sabeen had reportedly been receiving threats.


Activist Sabeen Mahmud’s assassination in Pakistan proves that the state sees in intellectuals a threat to its unitary vision of nationalism.


South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) a regional human rights organization strongly condemns the killing of Sabeen Mahmud a Pakistani human rights activist and Director of T2F and Peace Niche and calls out to the government of Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.



Credits: Madiha Tahir, Misha Rezvi, Fahad Desmukh, Alia Chughtai - Tributes and Remembrances / Pakistan, Audio / Video




by Ghazi Salahuddin
(The News, Sunday, April 26, 2015)

[The silencing of Sabeen] In my long career as a columnist, I have been constrained to chronicle the sorrows of this unfortunate country. And the focus mainly remains Karachi where I have grown up. But this experience has not made it any easier for me to come to terms with a tragedy of this enormity and depth.

Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead late on Friday evening. If you know who she was and what she represented in the context of our struggle for survival as civilised human beings, you are bound to feel it as a very personal loss. She was a member of your family, and while you grieve and suffer incomprehensible pain, you should remember that Sabeen Mahmud is now a national hero.

It is obviously very difficult for me to collect my thoughts in any orderly fashion as I write these words on Saturday morning. What can one say? Those of us who were at the morgue until after midnight were too stunned to speak to each other. It will take time for us to grasp the meaning of this calamity. It felt as if the members of Sabeen’s tribe, spread across the world, were spiritually with us to share our bereavement.

In the immediate past, I can recall two other violent deaths that prompted somewhat similar emotions as Sabeen’s killing has aroused. Parveen Rahman of the Orangi Pilot Project was shot dead in Karachi and Rashid Rehman, a lawyer and human rights defender, was targeted in Multan. This is how some of the most precious and truly courageous individuals in our lives are removed from the scene by the dark and evil forces of intolerance and anti-liberalism.

To present a glimpse of Sabeen’s story, let me lean on reports published in Saturday’s newspapers. This is the intro of one front-page story: “Sabeen Mahmud, the director and founder of The Second Floor (T2F) café, was shot dead by gunmen in an upscale neighbourhood of the metropolis on Friday”.

Another newspaper said: “Sabeen Mahmud, social media campaigner and human rights activist who founded the social forum T2F, was shot dead on Friday evening, minutes after the end of an interactive discussion ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ organised by her and attended by journalists and rights activists, including the founder leader of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, Abdul Qadeer Baloch”.

This report said that DIG Police of District South, Dr Jamil Ahmed “ruled out the killing as a result of a mugging attempt and said she had been attacked deliberately but he could not share any possible motive”. He was quoted as saying: “She was returning home with her mother in a car after the seminar she had organised on Balochistan”.

To learn a bit more about Sabeen, here are excerpts from a profile published on Saturday: “Peace activist and founder of T2F Sabeen Mahmud, who died from gunshot wounds on Friday, was a woman of many talents that mostly revolved around creating digital platforms for arts and culture…… She set up The Second Floor (T2F) as part of her non-profit umbrella called PeaceNiche of which T2F was her first major projection in 2007…The watering hole soon started organising talks, discussions, exhibitions, pioneering events (Pakistan’s first hackathon, stand-up comedy acts) with prominent local and international artists, writers and activists that it became essential for nearly everyone to attend these events at T2F as Ms Mahmud passionately worked for it day and night from fundraising, marketing to building maintenance”.

It is noted that she was an amateur sitar player and founder member of the All Pakistan Music Conference. She not only organised music programmes but also gave space to music educationists at T2F.

What emerges from this is that Sabeen was, in effect, the conscience of Karachi. I am very anxious to find out how our rulers would honour her for what she has contributed to society. The T2F idea is something that reflects our aspirations for a more meaningful existence in the midst of forces that represent death and destruction. Does this mean that Sabeen’s murder certifies a loss of hope in our future? This surely will depend on how the establishment responds to this tragedy.

I have my own memories of T2F. One session comes readily to mind when I moderated a discussion on Omar Shahid’s fictional account of violence in Karachi, The Prisoner. It is strange how almost every effort to celebrate a literary or cultural achievement in this city is rooted in a recollection of grief.

Very ominous it seems to me that I have to mourn the death of a civil society activist when I was all set to celebrate a very enterprising civil society campaign to establish peace in Karachi and to reclaim its public spaces. Yes, I am a member of the ‘I Am Karachi’ consortium and a grand event is scheduled today. The theme I had chosen was to compare what we have won and what we have lost in Karachi. With Sabeen’s murder, the balance has tilted drastically in the wrong direction.

In essence, T2F could be the model of what ‘I Am Karachi’ wants to replicate on a large scale. Concerned citizens of this city must come together and create an environment in which arts, culture and a rational discourse can flourish. I am personally involved with an initiative to promote dialogue and have participated in interactive discussions on some campuses.

Even when I do these things with full commitment, it is always hard for me to ward off the pessimism that is firmly lodged in my heart and in my mind. I keep telling friends that I am a proclaimed pessimist with a distinction that I must continue to do what I can. I will not give up and will not join the enemy. Yet, the prospects are incontrovertibly grim. Karachi, in particular, is in a state of decay – materially, intellectually, socially, politically, and spiritually. There is a lot of garbage on our streets and in our minds.

Someone might suggest that the situation is changing in the aftermath of the massacre of our schoolchildren in Peshawar and the ongoing operation in Karachi has produced some positive results. But the overall social conditions are not changing – and our rulers are unable to fight the war that is to be waged in the minds of men.

When I am told that there is a silver lining, my pessimism argues that every silver lining has a dark cloud. On the very day when Sabeen was killed by gunmen, two public rallies were held in Pakistan by ‘banned’ terrorist outfits. Draw your own conclusions.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin[at]

o o o

12. Pakistan’s Loss: A Beacon of Free Thought
by Bina Shah
(The New York Times, May 6, 2015)

KARACHI, Pakistan — In Pakistan, Karachi is known as the City of Lights. Whenever I fly back here and see those lights, my heart jumps happily because I know I’m home. But at the end of April, as I returned from abroad over the ribboning streets, my heart throbbed with infinite loss. Days before, the brightest light in Karachi had been extinguished forever.

Bina Shah
Pakistani cultural, political and women’s issues.
A New Language for Pakistan’s Deaf APR 1
Aiding Pakistan’s Mentally Ill FEB 19
Pakistan’s Competing Narratives FEB 1
The Legacy of Benazir Bhutto DEC 26
Flying Feckless in Karachi NOV 18
See More »

That light, to me, was Sabeen Mahmud, whom I met in the 1990s, after I returned from studies in the United States. I became the editor of a computer magazine, and was interviewing Sabeen at a multimedia company she had helped start. The Internet had come to Pakistan in 1996, and suddenly everyone I knew was talking about websites and Internet service providers and dial-up access to an information superhighway. That highway would soon connect Pakistan, then hesitantly emerging from a dictatorship’s information control, to the rest of the world. But few people recognized its potential, and many dismissed the Internet with suspicion or scorn. Not Sabeen, though; she was too intelligent.

In a little office festooned with posters of John Lennon and Albert Einstein, Sabeen waxed lyrical about CD-ROMs, graphic design and Apple Macs. As she rhapsodized about user-friendliness (a huge accomplishment back then), I knew I’d stumbled on a very unusual person. She was a tomboy dressed in jeans, a knee-length shirt known as a kurta, and kolhapuri sandals. Totally comfortable in her skin, she wasn’t concerned about the usual obsessions of young women in Pakistan: finding a good match and settling down, or the latest fashions and parties. Here was someone passionate about bigger concepts and imbued with purpose; she was an oasis of individuality in a city where social conventions limit the roles of young women to serving husband, children and family.

Fast-forward 10 years. Sabeen had left the tech company to start something new: a cultural community space where people could gather, talk, listen to music and poetry, discuss politics and drink coffee. She was inspired by the Pakistani teahouses of the 1950s and ’60s, when students and poets, revolutionaries and socialists would discuss life and politics over cigarettes and endless cups of tea. But she wanted a modern iteration, imbued with technology: There would be a Wi-Fi connection, an Apple laptop for public use, a music system fed by iTunes. Also an espresso machine, but no smoking.

The cafe was being constructed, on the second floor of a new office building, when I visited. The walls were bare, the kitchen unbuilt. The task seemed impossible, but Sabeen’s creative impulse nevertheless turned that blank space above a dusty street into a beautiful cafe with pine furniture and colorful murals and the ever-present posters — Lennon and Einstein and Steve Jobs alongside the revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the Nobel laureate in physics Abdus Salam.

Within months, the cafe — The Second Floor, commonly called T2F — was up and running. People came, in trickles at first, mostly students drawn to an air-conditioned spot to study and hang out with girlfriends and boyfriends, away from the prying eyes of others. A comedian, Saad Haroon, hosted T2F’s first open-mike night on May 31, 2007; from then on, dozens of musicians came to perform, along with young people who had never dreamed they would stand on a stage and strum a guitar or sing a song. She invited any writers traveling through town to do readings; she organized talks on science and philosophy and poetry. Whenever I came, I felt able to breathe deeply in a city that can suffocate the spirit.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Word of T2F spread through Sabeen’s use of email and a website. Soon, people began asking to stage lectures or group meetings; Sabeen said yes to all who shared her vision of social change through open dialogue, cultural activities or public discourse and advocacy. In her emails and blog posts — for example, a tribute to the artist Asim Butt, who painted T2F’s murals and committed suicide in 2010 — she felt compelled to speak out and always end with the words “in complete solidarity” and “Peace/Sabeen.”

Karachi had been starving for a cultural space like this, where nobody was made to feel they didn’t belong. In 2008, I wrote a novel there; in 2011, I wrote another in a room I rented on T2F’s new premises. Meanwhile, Sabeen pursued her unique brand of activism: encouraging pluralism by urging multiple voices to express themselves not just in the cafe, but in action. They took to the streets, protesting against violence directed at minorities, or for deweaponizing Karachi. Online, she conducted clever viral campaigns against the fundamentalists who wanted to outlaw Valentine’s Day and the government that had banned YouTube. A photograph of her standing on the back of a police van and flashing a V-sign at a political protest became an iconic image.

And she won converts, schooling a new generation in protest and in solidarity with others: religious minorities, secularists and humanists, the L.G.B.T. community, anyone being persecuted for their otherness. By 2015, T2F was attracting 100 visitors each day, and had spawned other cafes like it. At the age of 40, Sabeen was among the most respected of Pakistan’s intellectuals, and a hero to many.

Her grace and dignity, her generous heart and fine mind won her thousands of friends, even as her counterculture stance earned her unseen enemies. Two weeks ago, two of those enemies took her life, gunning her down as she drove home with her mother from a talk by Baloch activists. T2F had hosted the event after the Lahore University of Management Sciences had heeded a warning by security agencies not to let the activists speak. Sabeen chose to ignore such intimidation; fear could not break her spirit.

She died as she lived: in peaceful resistance, her ideals and principles intact, and in complete solidarity with the people she loved.

Bina Shah is the author of several books of fiction, including, most recently, “A Season for Martyrs.”


All content reproduced above is for non commercial and educational use.