Pakistan: human rights defender Sabeen Mahmud shot dead – others threatened

April 27, 2015

Sabeen Mahmud has been killed after hosting a discussion at her cafe [Alia Chughtai / Al Jazeera]

Having just published a post on the killing of (environmental) human rights defenders in which Latin America figures highly [], I feel that drawing attention to the situation in Pakistan is equally necessary:

As reported by many newspapers including Al-Jazeera (Asad Hashim on 25 April) Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani human rights defender, has been shot dead, shortly after hosting an event on Balochistan’s “disappeared people”, in the southern city of Karachi. 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 and pronounced dead on arrival at the National Medical Centre hospital on Friday 24 April at 9.40pm.

Mahmud and her mother were on their way from an event (“Unsilencing Balochistan,” hosted at T2F, with Baloch human rights activists Mama Qadeer, Farzana Majeed and Muhammad Ali Talpur) when her car came under fire from unidentified gunmen, according to police. Her mother was also shot twice, but was out of immediate danger, hospital officials said.

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.

Sabeen was a voice of reason, pluralism and secularism: the kind of creed that endangers the insidious side of constructed Pakistani nationalism,” Raza Rumi, a rights activist who escaped an assassination attempt in March 2014 and now lives in the United States out of fear for his life, told Al Jazeera.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Chairperson Zohra Yusuf told Dawn that a similar session on Balochistan by Sabeen was to be held at a Lahore university college on Thursday 3o April but was cancelled under alleged pressure by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.  “It appears that an attempt is being made to silence human rights defenders or those who take up the causes of the people,” Yusuf said. “It can’t be said categorically that her murder was linked with this event,” she added. 

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped reported on 10 April 2015 an earlier incident of pressure to cancel an event:  On 9 April 2015, a discussion session entitled “Unsilencing Balochistan’, arranged by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and intended to include human rights defender Mr Mama Qadeer, was called off following direct pressure by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The academic session, which had hoped to discuss resolutions to long-standing problems within Balochistan, was prevented following a visit from an ISI delegation to the University, whose faculty members were presented with a letter calling for the talks to be cancelled. Subsequent to the announcement of the cancellation, a media campaign was launched targeting the University under the hashtag #ShameonLums, adding to a history of slander against human rights defenders and organisations working to defend the human rights of people within the Baloch region.

The panel for the discussion was set to feature several human rights defenders from within Pakistan and the Baloch region in particular, including Mr Mohammad Ali Talpur, a leading Baloch rights activists, Mr I A Rehman, Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Mama Qadeer, Vice Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Person (VBMP), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the release of persons forcibly disappeared in Balochistan, and assisting families of the disappeared to seek justice in the courts. On 4 March 2015, Mama Qadeer was informed of the imposition of a travel ban against him, as he attempted to board a flight to the United States, in order to attend a human rights conference. Mr Farzana Majeed, who was also scheduled to speak at the event, faces a similar travel ban. []

The same organization on 3 April reported that on 1 April 2015, the brother of human rights defender Mr Sardar Mushtaq Gill, was attacked and shot in the Lahore area of Pakistan (he survived). Sardar Mushtaq Gill is the National Director of Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) which is based in the province of Punjab. LEAD is a non-government organisation that provides legal aid to marginalised people and defends the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. Sardar Mushtaq Gill has been campaigning against the use of blasphemy laws to target minorities within the country.

[The shooting continues a history of threats and attacks against Sardar Mushtaq Gill and his family, made as a result of his active human rights role.].


Pakistani rights activist Sabeen Mahmud shot dead – Al Jazeera English.

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