A revolutionary voice was silenced tonight in the bustling Pakistani city of Karachi.
Sabeen Mahmud, a Pakistani social activist, best known as the founder and director of T2F (The Second Floor), was shot by unidentified assailants on April 24. She died on her way to the hospital. Doctors said they retrieved five bullets from her body. Her mother who was accompanying her in the same car sustained bullet wounds and is currently being treated at a hospital; she is said to be in critical condition.
According to Dawn, T2F had on Friday organized a talk on Balochistan, titled “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur.” Mahmud had left T2F after attending the session, when she was targeted.
T2F is one of the very few spaces in Karachi where people gather to discuss ideas and enjoy intellectually stimulating talks on social issues. Pakistan is a country that oscillates between freedom of speech and a lack of tolerance for dissent. Outside the country, there are pubs, forums, bars, and cafes where people get together to enjoy a stimulating conversation. But in Pakistan, there was dearth of such spaces until Mahmud built T2F, armed with an ambitious vision to serve the community. Without money and lacking market research, she decided to create a space for those curious minds who wanted to discuss their ideas openly and freely, without the burden of the societal and cultural restraints prevalent in Pakistani society. Over the course of six years, T2F had morphed into a very popular spot for gatherings, musical evenings, hackathons, and meetings.
Her last event featured two of Pakistan’s most vilified human rights activists: Mama Qadeer and Farzana Majeed, both of whom have worked to raise awareness about the dire situation in the southwestern province of Balochistan and its “missing people.”
T2F’s website describes the venue as follows: “Since its inception in May 2007, T2F has hosted hundreds of events, ranging from poetry readings and film screenings, to vibrant debates on critical issues. With the support and participation of musicians, artists, writers, film makers, scientists, comedians, thought leaders, and engaged audiences, T2F has contributed to revitalizing Karachi’s cultural landscape and has provided an alternative, independent, safe space for discourse.”
This is not the first time a revolutionary voice has been targeted in Pakistan. In January, Bob Dietz, the Asia Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that, for a democratic country, Pakistan ranks worryingly high when it comes to the number of attacks on journalists and activists. In 2014, prominent journalist and Express News show “Khabar Se Aagay” host Raza Rumi narrowly escaped death after finishing a show in Lahore. According to a report in Express News, Rumi said unidentified armed men opened fire on his car. The driver later succumbed to his injuries, while his guard was also injured in the incident. Rumi added that although he had not received any direct threats but he was reportedly on the hit list of some extremist organizations. Similarly, Geo News‘ Hamid Mir was attacked by gunmen just over a year ago, sustaining major injuries.
T2F was created with the vision to protect Pakistan’s visionaries, to give them a space where they were safe to discuss ideas. For her efforts, Mahmud paid the ultimate price to give others a voice.