Sabeen Mahmud

On 25 April 2015, unidentified gunmen shot and killed human rights defender Sabeen Mahmud outside the arts venue she founded in Karachi.
Sabeen Mahmud was a prominent human rights defender in Pakistan.

In 2007, she set up The Second Floor (T2F) as a forum to host public discussion around human rights, blasphemy, cultural diversity, extremism, and peacebuilding. Mahmud founded T2F to create a “community space for open dialogue,” aimed at “sparking conversations and … providing a platform for people to engage with each other.” Mahmud hosted musicians, filmmakers, artists, activists, rights groups, scientists, and even comedians in an ongoing quest to expand the boundaries of dialogue in Pakistan.

“Sabeen was a voice of reason, pluralism and secularism: the kind of creed that endangers the insidious side of constructed Pakistani nationalism,” according to Raza Rumi, a rights activist who himself escaped an assassination attempt in March 2014 and now lives in the United States out of fear for his life.

On the night she was killed, she was leaving an event she organized entitled “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2.” During the event, Mahmud Tweeted this photo from her Instagram account:


Sabeen Mahmud and her mother were attacked as they drove away from the seminar at T2F. Unidentified gunmen approached their car on motorcycle and opened fire upon the human rights defender and her mother. Sabeen Mahmud suffered bullet wounds to her face, neck, and chest, and was pronounced dead at the National Medical Centre Hospital at 9.40 pm. Her mother, who was also wounded, survived the attack, and was taken to Aga Khan University Hospital.

“This was a woman equally at home soldering wires, discussing Urdu poetry, playing cricket, attending every progressive political demonstration in Karachi, singing the back catalogue of Pink Floyd, and being my self-proclaimed “geek-squad for life”. In 2013, she took on the religious fundamentalists by countering their “say no to Valentine’s Day” propaganda with posters saying “Pyaar hone dein” (Let there be love). Later that same year, she helped form a human chain around a church in solidarity with Pakistan’s Christian community after an attack on a church in Peshawar”. Kamila Shamshie in The Guardian.

However the work of T2F continues with the recent showing of Little Red Roses a new film by Asim Abbasi which tells the story of a young girl on the cusp of puberty who dresses up as a boy to sell roses on the streets of Karachi, has a chance encounter with a famous actress/model whom she idolises.

In the words of her mother Mahenaz Mahmud “I want her to be remembered as a human being who cared very deeply for people who were oppressed or people who couldn’t speak up – for freedom of expression. Somebody who was lively, intelligent, fun and very caring. She talked a lot about love. I think Sabeen defies definition.”


Four people have been arrested for the murder of Sabeen Mahmud including the alleged mastermind of the killing Saad Aziz.

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Date of Killing:24/04/2015

Previous Threats:Yes

Gender component to killing:Evidence of gender-based and/or sexual violence

Organisation:T2f – The Second Floor

Sector or Type of Rights the HRD Worked On:Civil and Political Rights, ESC Rights

Sector Detail:Women's Rights

More information:Front Line Defenders

1This database records an individual's chosen gender identity. If they do not self-identify as male or female they can use the option of recording other/neither or use the term NBGI (non binary gender identity).