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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Pakistan: ‘Enlightenment martyrs’ - “Unsilencing Pakistan” and the ongoing (...)

Pakistan: ‘Enlightenment martyrs’ - “Unsilencing Pakistan” and the ongoing “intellecticide”

Wednesday 13 May 2015, by siawi3


Posted on May 2, 2015

by beena sarwar

Photo: Vigil for Sabeen in Harvard Yard, April 28, 2015. Poster designed by Erum Sattar shows a painting by Frida Kahlo whom Sabeen loved, with a word play on “mARTyr” she would have enjoyed. Photo: Ken Shulman

In the summer of 2011, young academic Nosheen Ali, and journalists Sahar Habib Ghazi and Malik Siraj Akbar approached me to work on a new initiative they called “Unsilencing Pakistan” that aimed to make an online record of all the journalists, activists, and thinkers in Pakistan who have been harassed, tortured, and/or executed. I had written at the time about those killed as ‘enlightenment martyrs’, part of an ongoing intellecticide. The “Unsilencing Pakistan” idea included a statement that we got several progressive voices to endorse — Sabeen Mahmud among them (see below). We weren’t able to take the idea forward then but the concept remains critically important as Sabeen’s murder a week ago reminds us. I was also reminded by my friend Huma’s Facebook post today about the vigil for Sabeen uses the term #unsilencePakistan; and by the seminar titled Unsilencing Balochistan that was canceled at LUMS but held at T2F after which Sabeen was killed.

Back in June 2011, we agreed that documentation is important to memorialise the brave voices of Pakistan, and make clear the enormous nature of the crimes. “The aim is to build public awareness, attention, and pressure. The documentation will happen through open collaboration with volunteers in news rooms who have been tracking the data. The final database will be visible to anyone on the web, with mappings of the total number of cases, where the most intimidation has taken place, details about the most common forms of torture etc. This documentation will also be instrumental for any legal proceedings that may be brought against the culprits.” What has changed?
Saluting Sabeen, May Day, 2015, Facebook post by Sharad Sharma with the comment:
Saluting Sabeen, May Day, 2015, Facebook post by Sharad Sharma with the comment: “Remembering those who deserve to be @May Day”

STATEMENT, drafted and endorsed, June 2011

An Honest Pakistan Will Be a Better Pakistan

We, the undersigned, condemn the continuing harassment, torture, and killing of progressive thinkers, journalists, and activists in Pakistan. Although few inquiries have been conducted so far, most fingers point to the security establishment because of its track record of intimidation that is familiar to anyone involved with the press in Pakistan. The most recent cases include the assassinations of the respected journalist Saleem Shehzad and the prominent Baloch scholar and poet Saba Dashtiyari. Most major Pakistani newspapers have written editorials and published opinion pieces that attest to the new depths that the nexus of the ‘agencies’ and militants have reached in the country, and to their continued immunity from serious investigation or accountability.

The situation in Balochistan is particularly disturbing in this regard. Hundreds of students, lawyers, journalists, and activists have been abducted and tortured in the region since 2005, in response to Balochistan’s legitimate demands for its rights. According to the organization Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, around 149 of those missing have been brutally murdered and disposed off, in what Amnesty International has termed “kill and dump” operations. These operations are then being used to justify the deplorable revenge-killings of non-Baloch, worsening the situation even more.

There have been attempts to question the policies that have led to this situation, but to no avail. We urge the elected civilian government as well as the judiciary, the military, the opposition, the media, the bureaucracy and the citizens of Pakistan to work together and ensure accountability, justice, and due process of law.


The Undersigned (with Name, Profession, & Institutional Affiliation)

Thank you.

Sahar Habib Ghazi, Hosh Media
Nosheen Ali, UC Berkeley
Malik Siraj Akbar, Editor-in-chief The Baloch Hal
Beena Sarwar, journalist
Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Assistant Editor, The News International
Shehrbano Taseer, journalist, Newsweek Pakistan
Samina Omar Asghar Khan, Sungi Development Foundation
Sheikh Asad Rahman, Sungi Development Foundation, freelance journalist.
Amber Rahim Shamsi, BBC Urdu Service
Professor A. H. Nayyar, LUMS, Lahore
Syed Mustafa Qadri, Researcher, Amnesty International
Mehmal Sarfarz, journalist, Daily Times
Huma Yusuf, freelance journalist
Fahd Husain, Executive Director, ARY News
Kamran Asdar Ali, University of Texas, Austin
Ayesha Jalal, Tufts University, Boston
Saba Hamid, actor, Lahore
Dr Omar Ali, MD, Asiapeace and
Zubeida Mustafa, freelance journalist
Zeeshan Haider Producer, BBC Pakistan
Dr Asad Sayeed, economist
Zahid F. Ebrahim, lawyer
Zofeen T. Ebrahim, journalist
Haris Gazdar, researcher
S.M. Naseem, economist
Zohra Yusuf, editor and writer
Kamran Arif, lawyer
Ghazi Salahuddin, journalist
Iqbal Ali Alavi, Social activist, Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences
Asad Ali Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
Shayan Afzal Khan, social entrepreneur and writer
Rahimullah Yusufzai, Resident Editor, The News International, Peshawar
Imrana Khwaja, journalist, Express Tribune
Zia Mian, Princeton University
Kamran Shafi, columnist, Dawn
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, Founder & Chair, Pakistan Youth Alliance
Jamal J. Elias, Univeristy of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Shahzad Bashir, Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University
Zakia Sarwar, teacher and teacher trainer
Nusrat Javeed, Director Current Affairs, Aaj TV
Dr. Taimur Rahman, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Lahore University of Management Sciences
Dr Abbas Hamdani, Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Salman Ahmad, MD, musician, author, teacher, co-founder of Junoon and SSGWI (
Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Associate Professor of History, Brown University
Abbas Nasir, journalist
Umer Draz Nangiana, journalist, The Express Tribune
Fasih Ahmed, Editor-in-chief, Newsweek Pakistan
Ayesha Alam Khan, Director, The Knowledge Factory
Mekaal Hasan, musician & record producer, The Mekaal Hasan Band
Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University
Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist
Nadeem F. Paracha, journalist, columnist & cultural Critic, Dawn newspaper and Dawn.Com
Sabeen Mahmud, PeaceNiche
Naveen Naqvi, Founder and Editor-in-chief,
Kamran Rehmat, Editor, Islamabad Dateline
Jehan Ara, President, Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA)
Adnan Rehmat, InterMedia Pakistan
Khurram Husain, Business, Express
Hassan Bashir, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Political Science, Liberal Arts Program, Texas A&M University at Qata
Zain Alavi, Hamza Alavi Foundation
Dr Ghazala Kazi, physician

Sabeen’s advice to people organising solidarity vigils, Dec 18, 2014 (in the wake of the Peshawar APS massacre)