South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

KARACHI: The Concerned Citizens for Peace (CCP) organised a public gathering at the Karachi Arts Council gardens. The event was held in memory of the late Sabeen Mahmud, who was murdered in late April this year.
Speakers at the gathering paid tribute to Sabeen and to other heroes like her who had been silenced while fighting for justice and freedom of expression.
Zeenia Shaukat from Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) started the event by introducing Sabeen Mahmud and T2F to the people present. Next, she spoke of the multiple ways in which voices are silenced. The gathering was to raise a voice against the silencing of such voices, she said, and would attempt to represent these voices, many of which belonged to people who had worked with Sabeen.
Zaheer Kidvai, who had been Sabeen Mahmud’s mentor since she was a teenager, gave a moving and very personal perspective on her, highlighting her exceptional love for learning. Sabeen formed PeaceNiche and T2F to encourage dialogue, he said. She felt Pakistan could not progress without dialogue. Kidvai remembered introducing Sabeen to famed intellectual Eqbal Ahmed, who convinced her to stay in Pakistan and make her life’s work there.
Next, Farieha Aziz, digital activist and director of Bolo Bhi, spoke on the proposed Cyber Crime Bill. “Section 34 gives PTA authority to decide what’s objectionable and what’s against national security,” Farieha Aziz said. She pointed out that YouTube had been closed for the last two years, along with some other websites. “Social media and the Internet is the location for a lot of discourse,” she said. “There are negative sides to it, but there are positives as well. The bill just seems to want to curb dialogue. It will criminalise many innocent acts.”
Farieha Aziz said that Sabeen had been very supportive of the Cyber Crime Bill campaign, which had successfully stopped the passing of the bill for now. She urged people to raise their voice collectively; otherwise society would not be able to resist the assault on its civil liberties. Actor Fawad Khan presented a powerful dramatic reading in the next segment. He performed an Urdu version of the famous story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.
Journalist and novelist Mohammed Hanif gave excellent insight into the issues that journalists face in Pakistan. He pointed out that journalists were stuck between the industry, on one hand, which demanded news that generated profits, and the state and intelligence agencies, on the other hand, who demanded that certain topics not be discussed at all. He said that his editor in the past, the late Razia Bhatti, had told him that media and journalism can never be free, but the journalist can choose to be. He also raised the issue of journalists trying to bring each other down in order to make more money.
Veeru Kohli, bonded labourer, rights activist and politician, gave an impassioned speech in which she condemned the repeated harassment that she and her family had had to face. She said Sabeen Mahmud supported her in her election campaign, and that she would always be Sabeen’s supporter. Mir Mohammad Talpur, Baloch missing persons activist, spoke next. He spoke strongly against the proxy war being conducted in Balochistan, and said that the Baloch were paying for the follies of others. But despite the killings and the harassment endured by the Baloch, he said, the struggle must go on. He urged everyone to speak out against human rights abuses. “What you allow, is what will continue,” he said. Talpur was followed by poet Fahmida Riaz, who gave her general views on the security situation in Pakistan.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist, educationist, activist and member of the committee that formulated the National Action Plan against terrorism, gave a candid speech on Pakistan’s terrorism problem. He pointed out the need to question why educated people were turning to violence and terrorism, and lamented the lack of concrete developments on the National Action Plan. Although the moratorium on capital punishment had been removed, people and groups who had accepted their crimes had still not been caught and hanged. He condemned the lack of action against Maulana Abdul Aziz, cleric of Lal Masjid in Islamabad, and the continuing, unchecked radicalisation of religious seminaries. “The real enemy is within us,” he said, rejecting the view that Pakistan needs to allocate more resources to its military to fight an outside enemy.
Next, Momin Khan gave a resounding reading of a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Amar Sindhu, speaking on behalf of Women’s Action Forum, said that not speaking against terrorism was terrorism itself. Pakistan’s terrorism problem was a self-created one, she said. We have learnt nothing from 1971, and continue not to listen to our people. She condemned the fact that the public narrative had largely been crushed since General Zia’s time, but space had been given to the religious right, to terror mongers, and to the spokespeople of violence. “We must reclaim the public space and not allow our voices to be silenced,” she said.
IA Rahman, activist and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was the last speaker of the event. He said that the gathering made it evident that Sabeen’s work continued. “You can take someone’s life, but you can’t stop their work,” he said eloquently. He noted that while some voices were being silenced, others were being allowed to roar. He also noted that there was a failure to own what was happening in Balochistan. “It is not just Balochistan’s problem, it is Pakistan’s problem,” he said. He said that statistics as to how many terrorists were killed were not cause for celebration. “Our standards should not be set by how many people were killed, they should be set by when people feel free to speak and go about their work without issue,” he finished.
The final summation of the event was presented by activist Naghma Iqtidar, who listed all the people/communities who had been targeted by the state in the name of national interest.
The event ended with an energetic and emotional performance by the musical band, Sounds of Kolachi, who had worked closely with Sabeen Mahmud in the past.