Pakistan PM orders probe into killing of rights activist

27.04.2015

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered an investigation into the killing of prominent rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, who was shot dead minutes after she hosted a seminar on abuses in troubled Balochistan province on Friday.

Police said Mahmud, who runs The Second Floor, a cafe in Karachi that organises debates and art events, was killed late on Friday evening when gunmen attacked her car as she departed with her mother from the venue in the upmarket Defence neighbourhood. Mahmud was hit by five bullets and died at the scene, police said. Her mother was wounded.

Mama Abdul Qadeer, a prominent Baloch rights activist and a speaker at the seminar, said Mahmud had received threats before the event. "The programme organisers were already receiving threats ... it is very difficult to talk about Balochistan in Pakistan," said Qadeer.

Police initially said it appeared to be "a result of personal enmity" but launched a probe after Sharif ordered an investigation into her killing. "A team of three senior police officers headed by the deputy inspector general of police will probe the killing," said Atique Ahmed Shaikh, a spokesman for Karachi police. Tariq Dharajo, another senior police official, said no one had yet been arrested and police were investigating the case from different angles.

Mahmud had on Friday hosted a seminar about rights abuses in Balochistan titled "Un-silencing Balochistan Take 2", featuring two prominent Baloch rights activists, Qadeer and Farzana Baluch, among other speakers.

Qadeer and Baluch were meant to speak at another seminar, "Un-silencing Balochistan", at the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences about two weeks ago, but rights activists said it was cancelled apparently at the behest of the powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Qadeer said he received death threats because of speaking against human rights violations in Balochistan. "I am constantly receiving threats from unknown telephone numbers. The situation is becoming worse. Now the agencies are meeting me directly and asking me to stop all this practice," said Qadeer. "When you talk about the human rights you are considered as a traitor," he added.

In March Qadeer was prevented from attending a conference in the United States to speak on the rights situation in his province.

Human rights groups have long accused Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies of serious abuses in Balochistan, which has been wracked for years by a separatist insurgency. The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.

Balochistan, Pakistan's largest but least populous province, is unquestionably a sensitive subject for the security forces and they keep close tabs on anyone suspected of promoting separatism.  (AFP)

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