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Outpouring of Grief and Anger as Pakistani Activist Is Gunned Down

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By ROBERT MACKEY APRIL 24, 2015

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    A 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.

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    Sabeen Mahmud speaking about her cultural center, The Second Floor, in Karachi last month to Fred de Sam Lazaro of PBS. PBS NewsHour, via YouTube

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

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    Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2) with Wusat Ullah Khan, Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch and Mir Mohammad… https://t.co/k5W35d8XGb

    — Sabeen Mahmud (@sabeen) April 24, 2015
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    Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2) with Wusat Ullah Khan, Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch and Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur. Moderated by Moneeza Ahmed #T2F #Karachi

    A photo posted by Sabeen Mahmud (@neebas) on Apr 24, 2015 at 9:03am PDT

    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.

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    I can't stop the tears. I can't believe it. Sabeen. This can't be true.

    — Shoaib Taimur (@shobz) April 24, 2015
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    I barely have friends, just a few fellow travellers. One of them, Sabeen Mahmud was killed right now. This country is cursed, is a curse

    — Jahanzaib Haque (@jhaque_) April 24, 2015
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    Oh God no! Sabeen Mehmood of T2F shot dead in Karachi . Horrible horrible news

    — Talat Aslam (@titojourno) April 24, 2015
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    T2F founder Sabeen Mahmud shot dead after her event on #UnsilencinfBalochistan with #MamaQadeer #Balochistan pic.twitter.com/R3qgl6OnPz

    — Ahmen Khawaja (@AhmenKhawaja) April 24, 2015
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    We will not be silenced RT @wajidasyed: Silenced for holding 'Unsilencing Balochistan' #T2F #SabeenMehmud #targetKilling #Balochistan

    — beena sarwar (@beenasarwar) April 24, 2015
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    There is so much I want to say but am unable to express my grief. Sabeen was one of the bravest people I knew.

    — Shoaib Taimur (@shobz) April 24, 2015
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    Very sad to hear about Sabeen. Just met her on the way out of T2F this evening. Shocking news.

    — Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) April 24, 2015
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    Brave @sabeen built @thesecondfloor brick by brick as Karachi’s leading space for arts, debates&culture.Even little dissent not permissible!

    — Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) April 24, 2015
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    Two summers ago in london i told @sabeen to be careful and she said, 'someone has to fight.' Goodbye, my friend. You were the best of us.

    — Kamila Shamsie (@kamilashamsie) April 24, 2015
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    Feeling sad & angry: Karachi Pakistan lose another voice of sanity. pic.twitter.com/9Pp0ebB8K2

    — Shahzeb Jillani (@ShahzebJillani) April 24, 2015
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    Brave rights activist #SabeenMahmud is no more. Silenced forever. RIP pic.twitter.com/Vwzo2MvMjw

    — Murtaza Ali Shah (@MurtazaGeoNews) April 24, 2015
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    Getting all these offensive messages, if only they realised the only true nationalist who cared about all Pakistani's is the one killed.

    — Fasi Zaka (@fasi_zaka) April 24, 2015
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    You think it can't possibly get any worse.... and then it does.... and again and again ...

    — omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) April 24, 2015
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    Dear #Pakistan what was her fault? giving voice to the voiceless? #RIPSabeenMahmud If you're not ashamed today, rethink of your patriotism

    — Kashif Shaikh (@s_kashif8) April 24, 2015
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    With the inspirational @sabeen (a few years ago)-your work and spirit will live on. Shame on the killers. Butchers. pic.twitter.com/wePc9VSlkl

    — Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) April 24, 2015
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    The Second Floor - #T2F place for dialogue #RIPSabeen .... Can we speak Now? pic.twitter.com/N8frL2q1yR

    — Sibte Arif (@sibtearif) April 24, 2015

    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.”

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    A video tribute to Sabeen Mahmud posted online after her death included footage from earlier discussions at her cultural center of the counterinsurgency in Baluchistan.

    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.

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    All these great adjectives.Tears.Candles at vigils.Heartfelt obituaries.Justice?No!& nothing will bring @Sabeen back! pic.twitter.com/10y1dZ8BoI

    — Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) April 25, 2015

    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.”

    #auto

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