One has won, when the power of one’s words forces their opponent to pick up a gun; an admission of defeat, an act of cowardice, and the lowest, most barbaric way of settling an argument. Sabeen Mahmud was victorious even before her questions started to irk the powerful; she was a renowned human rights activist, the proprietor of The Second Floor (T2F) – a spiritual successor to the coffee houses of old, and an oasis of literary and liberal modernity in a desert of intolerance. Her murder is an atrocity that must be accounted for; and so the obvious question arises: who would murder a human rights activist in this country? The list of course, is endless.

Sabeen Mahmud was gunned down as she was leaving T2F, which had organised a talk called, ‘Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur.’ A similar seminar was scheduled to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) a few weeks ago, before it was abruptly cancelled “on the orders of the government”. Mama Qadeer and other Baloch activists have had numerous altercations with the government seeking to control the information that comes out of Balochistan. The province remains in an information black hole, with any stories escaping from it few and far between, and it remains one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. This has been exacerbated by an onset of military operations, which have imposed their own rules of a media blackout – making the independent verifying of facts impossible. It has become obvious over the years that anyone who tries to highlight Balochi issues is a target; regardless of age, gender, political orientation and motivation.

The most macabre significance of this crime is that Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch and Mir Talpur – the people who are the ones raising their voices and engaging in activism – were not the ones who were targeted. Sabeen Mahmud, an activist and free thinker who merely provided a platform to them, was assassinated for standing with them. This is a warning for those who engage with and encourage debate; a brazen attack on the ideals of free speech. As the government and intelligence agencies condemn the shooting, it remains to be seen exactly how far they will go, within and without, to get to the bottom of this case.