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Pakistan: Human Rights Defender Sabeen Mahmud Shot Dead

On 25 April 2015, unidentified gunmen shot and killed human rights defender Sabeen Mahmud outside the arts venue she founded in Karachi.

Sabeen Mahmud was a prominent human rights defender in Pakistan. In 2007, she set up The Second Floor (T2F) as a forum to host public discussion around human rights, blasphemy, cultural diversity, extremism, and peacebuilding. Mahmud founded T2F to create a "community space for open dialogue," aimed at "sparking conversations and ... providing a platform for people to engage with each other." Mahmud hosted musicians, filmmakers, artists, activists, rights groups, scientists, and even comedians in an ongoing quest to expand the boundaries of dialogue in Pakistan.

On the night she was killed, she was leaving an event she organized entitled “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2.” During the event, Mahmud Tweeted a photo from her Instagram account.

Sabeen Mahmud and her mother were attacked as they drove away from the seminar at T2F. Unidentified gunmen approached their car on motorcycle and opened fire upon the human rights defender and her mother. Sabeen Mahmud suffered bullet wounds to her face, neck, and chest, and was pronounced dead at the National Medical Centre Hospital at 9.40 pm. Her mother, who was also wounded, survived the attack, and was taken to Aga Khan University Hospital.

“Unsilencing Balochistan” was dedicated to the discussion of human rights violations in Balochistan, particularly forced disappearances. The seminar was attended by human rights activists from within Pakistan and the Baloch region, including Mr Mohammad Ali Talpur, a leading Baloch rights activist, Mr Mama Qadeer, Vice Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Person (VBMP), and Ms Farzana Majeed of the same organisation. VBMP fights for the release of persons forcibly disappeared in Balochistan, and assists families of the disappeared to seek justice in the courts. The same seminar was previously set to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on 9 April 2015, but was called off following pressure from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

On the date of the murder, members of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network rallied against the killing of Sabeen Mehmud, and asked the government to protect defenders of civil rights. “It appears that an attempt is being made to silence human rights defenders or those who take up the causes of the people,” said Ms Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, after the incident.

Front Line Defenders condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud, which it believes to be a direct result of the her human rights work, in particular her role in supporting public discussions about human rights violations in Pakistan, and expresses its grave concern for the safety of human rights defenders in Pakistan.

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