Outpouring of Grief and Anger As Pakistani Activist, Sabeen Mahmud Is Gunned Down

imageA leading proponent of civil society in Pakistan was shot and killed in the port city of Karachi on Friday night, officials said, shortly after hosting a discussion with dissidents from Baluchistan, the country’s largest province, at the cultural center she founded.

The victim of the attack, Sabeen Mahmud, 39, was shot at least five times, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported, as she left The Second Floor, a cafe, bookstore and cultural center she founded to promote “open dialogue” of contentious issues. Ms. Mahmud was accompanied by her mother, who was also shot by the gunmen and was said to be in critical condition.

Shortly before the attack, Ms. Mahmud posted an image on Instagram of the “Unsilencing Balochistan” event at her center, widely known as T2F.

The photograph showed the participants, including Mama Qadeer, a dissident from the region who marched to Karachi from the provincial capital of Quetta in 2013 to raise awareness of the frequent disappearances of Baluch activists, as the government struggles to contain a separatist insurgency. Separatists say that thousands of people have been killed by the security forces, a claim denied by Pakistani officials.

The seminar on Baluchistan, featuring other activists and critics of the military, was originally scheduled to take place earlier this month at Lahore University of Management Sciences, a liberal private college in the eastern city of Lahore. The event was canceled by the university on the orders of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the country’s powerful spy agency.

The killing of Ms. Mahmud prompted a wave of condolence messages online from friends and admirers, with the Twitter conversation in Pakistan dominated late Friday night by notes tagged #RIPSabeen.

As Xeni Jardin noted in a tribute to Ms. Mahmud on Boing Boing, the activist described herself on Instagram as a “postmodern flower child, unabashed Mac snob, Pink Floyd devotee, Tetris addict” and “ ‘West Wing’ fanatic,” willing to “die for Hugh Laurie.”

”Judging from the many snapshots she posted to social media,” Ms. Jardin observed, “she loved her mom, her cat, ’80s music, technology, and peace and justice. She was one of us.”

A keen cricketer whose playing career was constrained by injury, Ms. Mahmud was passionate about technology and promoting dialogue. In an interview with a Pakistani magazine two years ago, she was asked, “If you could time travel, would you go to the past or the future?” She responded by choosing the time and place that Apple was founded: “Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s garage.”

The same interviewer also asked, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?”

“I’d like to wave my magic wand and de-weaponise Karachi,” she replied.

According to a Wired profile in 2013, Ms. Mahmud was also the organizer of “Pakistan’s first hackathon, a weekend-long event with nine teams focusing on solutions to civic problems,” staged just before a national election many civic-minded Pakistanis felt little enthusiasm for.

That report noted that Ms. Mahmud responded to online death threats, prompted in part by her activism in defense of a local ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day, by “working on a crowd-sourced hate aggregator.”

“Fear is just a line in your head,” she told Lois Parshley of Wired. “You can choose what side of that line you want to be on.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *