Sabeen did not fear bullets

She refused to employ armed guards to protect her, as many others in Pakistan do.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:31 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2015 02:39 am IST - New Delhi:

People carry the coffin of human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud during her funeral in Karachi on Saturday.

People carry the coffin of human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud during her funeral in Karachi on Saturday.

“Fear is just a line in your head. You can choose what side of that line you want to be on … you can’t let fear control you,” Sabeen Mahmud, a Karachi-based activist who was killed on Friday, told the magazine Wired in an interview in 2013.

Ms. Mahmud, who was laid to rest in Karachi on Saturday even as her mother battles for life in hospital, is remembered by all as fearless. She refused to employ armed guards to protect her, as many others in Pakistan do.

A day after Ms. Mahmud was gunned down as she was driving home from her coffee house, The Second Floor (T2F), Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killing and ordered a full inquiry. But few in Pakistan hold out much hope that an investigation would lead anywhere.

Just minutes before gunmen opened fire, Ms. Mahmud and her mother had attended a talk she had organised for activists from Balochistan.

Mama Qadeer Baloch, who spoke along with others on the subject of human rights violations in Balochistan, was supposed to have spoken at the Lahore University of Management Sciences two weeks before.

At the last minute, however, the talk was cancelled, allegedly on government directions. This angered Ms. Mahmud. Known for her tech-savvy and organisational skills, she decided to hold the talk at her coffee house-cum-meeting place, inviting people via Twitter.

Sabeen’s killing part of a pattern

Less than an hour after she left a talk, “Unsilencing Balochistan” organised by her in her coffee shop in Karachi, activist Sabeen Mahmud’s voice was silenced by bullets.

Over the past few years, a series of attacks have been launched in Pakistan on people who raised “inconvenient voices,” including journalists Raza Rumi, Saleem Shahzad and Hamid Mir, who have spoken out against religious extremist groups and the all-powerful “establishment” or Intelligence services.

Speaking to The Hindu from Washington, Raza Rumi, who moved to the U.S. after he escaped an attack in which his driver was killed, said Ms. Mahmud’s “brutal targeting was similar.” “As I was not driving the car perhaps, I got the chance to lie down on the floor of the car and protect myself. Alas, Sabeen did not. We have lost a formidable voice for progressive Pakistan,” he said.

Facing the heat on social media for the killing, Pakistan’s military intelligence spokesman’s office issued a statement, unusual for the agency, saying, “Intelligence agencies have been tasked to render all possible assistance to investigating agencies for apprehension of perpetrators.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered a full inquiry.

The Karachi Police have filed several cases, and an official said this was definitely a “targeted attack”.

Ms. Mahmud’s death was marked in India as well, as friends and associates met at Delhi’s Habitat Centre to mourn her. “Those who murdered Sabeen, want others like her to be scared of standing for liberal values. They want dissent dead. That won’t happen,” tweeted Raheel Khursheed, the political head of Twitter India.

At the time, Ms. Mahmud had become famous for organising Pakistan’s first “hackathon” to campaign for more transparency in government. But the threat to her life became more apparent after she challenged religious extremist parties for their ban on Valentine’s Day celebrations with a campaign called “Pyaar Hone Dey” (Let love happen), fought for minorities with a hashtag campaign called Pakistanforall and invited blasphemy charges when she protested against the ban on Facebook after copies of an allegedly blasphemous film were circulated on it.

On Saturday, Pakistani newspapers were full of articles recounting Ms. Mahmud’s work. “As bleeding heart liberals go, Sabeen’s was the bloodiest heart I had ever come across,” wrote Dawn columnist Hassan Belal Zaidi in an obituary.

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