A group of ambitious activists gathered in a nondescript Karachi office building on the night of Friday, April 24 to discuss one of the most taboo topics in Pakistan. They spoke of the missing people of Balochistan, of which there are allegedly thousands.
The meeting was organized by Sabeen Mahmud, founder and director of the Karachi free expression alcove known as The Second Floor (T2F). Mahmud created T2F in 2007 to fill a void in Pakistani society. She wondered if she “could create a miniscule postmodern hippie outpost, a safe haven for artists, musicians, writers, poets, activists, and thinkers.”
Mahmud’s decision to host “Unsilencing Balochistan” at T2F was a bold one. Originally scheduled to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, event organizers were forced to cancel at the behest of the Pakistani government.
Government intimidation didn’t deter Mahmud, who proffered a new venue for the talk – her place, T2F. “Unsilencing Bolochistan (Take 2)” inspired robust conversation on an issue that many Pakistanis are concerned about but don’t feel safe discussing, as the topic is largely ignored in mainstream Pakistani media.
Mahmud’s defiant decision was not atypical. She understood the important role that freedom of speech and expression should play in Pakistani society. Beyond understanding, Mahmud worked actively to foster avenues for such outward displays of personal thought and feeling in Pakistan.
Tragically, Sabeen Mahmud died for her activism. Mahmud was shot and killed while driving home from the ‘Bolochistan’ event. Mahmud’s mother, a passenger in the car, was also shot in what was described by police as a “targeted” or “seemingly targeted” killing.
Mahmud’s death has reverberated deeply with the Pakistani and global human rights communities. The loss of Mahmud was described by prominent Pakistani human rights activist Raza Rumi as “a huge blow to Pakistan’s civil society and social change movements,” and was lamented as “Pakistan’s Loss” in the New York Times Opinion pages.
Mourning Mahmud, hacking for good
“I love and cherish the fact that technology has the potential to change lives. We need to devote ourselves to making enabling tools and technologies accessible to more and more people.”
Mahmud hosted Pakistan’s first-ever hackathon, deemed a rousing success by all involved: People “turned up convinced that they could change the situation in Pakistan.” One participant extolled, “The outcome was mind blowing. Being part of actual solutions to bring about a positive change in a country that desperately needs it, the feeling was beautiful!”
Mahmud also used the Internet and specifically social media to exercise free speech in her activism. She encouraged other Pakistanis resist forces of repression with communication and technology, like in 2013, when the Pakistani authorities banned Valentine’s Day. Mahmud organized an online campaign to counter the ban and celebrate Valentine’s Day despite the government ban. For this, too, Mahmud received death threats.
It’s only fitting, then, that to honor the memory of Sabeen Mahmud, f3mhack is putting together a global feminist hackathon dedicated to the memory of Mahmud and all those who struggle to fight against injustice and discrimination around the world.
Anyone interested in joining is invited to submit their event on the f3mhack site. Relevant activities include those “dealing with gender and technology, privacy and surveillance, digital security, hacking gender, software or hardware.”
We encourage you to celebrate the life of Sabeen Mahmud by joining this event on Saturday, May 23rd and honoring the life of Sabeen Mahmud, a champion of free speech in Pakistan and the world over.