ISLAMABAD: It was a protest which resembled a funeral. The mood was grim as civil society activists, politicians and journalists gathered outside the National Press Club (NPC) on Tuesday to protest the target killing of social activist Sabeen Mahmud.
Protesters holding placards and pictures of the slain activist lamented that the space for civil society discourse is shrinking with each passing day and because of the policies of the military establishment, intolerance in society is further increasing.
Sabeen Mahmud, the founding director of The Second Floor (T2F) in Karachi, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen as she was leaving T2F following the seminar she had organised on the situation in Balochistan. The participants included Baloch activist Mama Qadeer.
Speaking at the protest on Monday, human rights activist Marvi Sirmed said the civil society had come out on the streets many times to protest for human rights.
“We came out on the streets when the Army Public School (APS) was attacked and no one called us traitors but when we raise our voices for the rights of the people of Balochistan, we are labeled as traitors,” she said.
“Sabeen had given people a space for discourse. Following her assassination, a report was to be submitted within 72 hours, but no report came out,” she said.
“Some television anchors are defending the intelligence agencies and saying the agencies cannot be responsible because they know fingers may be pointed at them too,” she said.
Ms Sirmed said media channels had begun campaigns to defend intelligence agencies and to defame Taimur Rahman who spoke against the ISI when the seminar on Balochistan was cancelled at Lums. She said the civil society plans to send letters to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and television channels.
“Pakistan is defamed because of murder of Sabeen not because of the seminar on Balochistan,” Ms Sirmed concluded.
Supreme Court Advocate and human rights activist Hina Jilani said that murders of civil society activists make other activists more determined to raise their voice for rights.
“This is not 1971 so it is impossible to hide human rights violations. The civil society must be respected, otherwise our country will take a turn for the worse,” she said.
Awami National Party leader Bushra Gohar said it is now routine for anyone who talks about Baloch rights to be targeted.
“We will continue to demand justice for those who are killed. The killers should know that Sabeen’s voice cannot be silenced,” she said.
Journalist Hamid Mir said that it was encouraging that a large number of people came to the protest at the NPC despite continued threat to civil society.
“Although the civil society’s reaction is strong, the media is silent about it. However, people know who killed Sabeen Mahmud. Those who think that Sabeen was an enemy of the state are the enemies themselves,” he said.
Rights activist Tahira Abdullah said the murders of the civil society must be stopped.
Academician A.H. Nayyar said that it is now time to openly say the [state] was involved in the incident.
“Journalist Saleem Shahzad said the ISI was after him and then he was killed,” he said.
Musician Arieb Azhar said that Sabeen was a good friend to artists and she would always provide a place for dialogue.
“I don’t know who killed Sabeen but it is a fact that she spoke about Balochistan and whoever speaks about Balochistan is killed,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2015