Lebanese don’t expect them to be held responsible for murder of outspoken publisher


BEIRUT — Unsolved or unpunished assassinations are the norm in Lebanon. The murder last week of publisher and activist Lokman Slim, found by gunshot in his car, is unlikely to be the exception.

Slim’s family and friends gathered at his home for a memorial service on February 11, with some speculating that Hezbollah may have been involved. The 58-year-old public scholar was a rare high-profile critic of the group within Lebanon’s Shia Muslim community. He was born in Haret Hreik, a southern suburb of Beirut under Hezbollah control, and was still living there at the time of his death.

BEIRUT — Unsolved or unpunished assassinations are the norm in Lebanon. The murder last week of publisher and activist Lokman Slim, found by gunshot in his car, is unlikely to be the exception.

Slim’s family and friends gathered at his home for a memorial service on February 11, with some speculating that Hezbollah may have been involved. The 58-year-old public scholar was a rare high-profile critic of the group within Lebanon’s Shia Muslim community. He was born in Haret Hreik, a southern suburb of Beirut under Hezbollah control, and was still living there at the time of his death.

But divided Lebanese society and its sectarian policies virtually guaranteed that there would be no responsibility for the murder.

“Trust in the local justice system is non-existent – they have never solved a single political assassination,” said Nadim Houry, executive director of the independent think tank Arab Reform Initiative and friend of Slim. “They are beholden to sectarianism. They don’t get to the bottom of politically motivated assassinations. “

Hezbollah supporters had previously threatened Slim, and in December 2019 he issued a statement holding the group’s leadership, as well as the Lebanese military, responsible for his personal security. His sister, Rasha al-Ameer, has hinted at the group’s involvement in his death while others openly accused them. Shortly after Slim’s body was found in southern Lebanon, one of the sons of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah tweeted what appeared to be a reference to Slim’s death with the hashtag “no regrets” before deleting the tweet.

But it’s still unclear exactly what could have sparked a murder now – Slim had been critical of Hezbollah for years. An article on Saudi Arabian television website Al Arabiya said Slim had helped a Hezbollah operative quit the group, but the reporter who wrote the article declined to discuss it further when contacted. through Foreign police. A spokesperson for the Lebanese Internal Security Forces said so far he had no information about the investigation.

“Honestly, I don’t know why now,” Houry said. “Was Lokman on something and crossed a red line?” I do not know. This is the tragedy – those who should answer this are the authorities, but in the absence of an investigation it creates a situation where people are propping up theories. “

This weekend, Lebanon marks the anniversary of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut – a crime involving a car bomb with the payload of an airstrike – and the subsequent assassination of ‘a Lebanese detective who solved the case in 2008. An international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations took more than a decade to run its course, convicting members of Hezbollah in absentia for the crime at the end of the last year. But Nasrallah has publicly stated that the group rejects the charges and that no one has been punished for the murder.

Slim’s murder is the 13th large-scale assassination since Hariri’s, with victims including politicians, journalists and security officials. Only the international investigation into Hariri’s murder has resulted in convictions.

Perhaps more than any other Lebanese sect, dissent within the Shiite community is rare.

“He was very against Hezbollah, he was against the ruling class, he was always pushing for more space, and he was pushing for independent Shiites to continue to function,” Houry said.

Highlighting these tensions, a Shiite cleric who read the funeral rights at the ceremony Thursday morning posted a video later today apologizing for attending Slim’s funeral and saying he did not know which memorial he had been invited to officiate. The video also included the cleric’s pledge of support for Hezbollah.

In addition to being an editor and activist, Slim was also a filmmaker, archivist and public intellectual. He ran a non-governmental organization called Umam Productions and an art space called The Hangar from the grounds of his family’s home.

Slim’s family have called for a full investigation into his death while others have suggested the only way forward is an independent investigation by an international actor.

His assassination also comes at a time when Lebanon is reeling from an economic collapse that has seen its currency lose 80% of its value. A protest movement that began in late 2019 against the ruling class’s mismanagement of virtually all aspects of governance continues, though protests are now smaller and being faced with increasingly brutal force by officials. of security. On Thursday, just a few miles from Slim’s home and memorial, activists in Beirut staged a sit-in to demand the release of those arrested during the recent protests.

“There is an urgent need to protect the activists,” Houry said. “Lebanon is at a key point in its history, and it is in free fall, and an unequal battle for transition is unfolding – the forces hoping for change and improvement in the country must be able to mobilize and operate and go meet people, and that’s what’s really scary about Lokman’s assassination. You try to silence the independent Shia voices, but everyone thinks there is no one to protect them.

News of Slim’s death has also put a damper on protests planned to mark the sixth anniversary of the explosion in the port of Beirut, another incident for which no one has so far been held accountable. Although authorities initially promised a swift investigation into this incident, in which thousands of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate exploded in the port in the middle of downtown Beirut, killing more than 200 people, the Investigation was stalled in December 2020 when the presiding judge sought to indict the country’s former prime minister and two former cabinet members. This was another example of process policy.

“On that day, demonstrations were to take place in front of the buildings of the Ministry of Justice throughout Lebanon,” said Lucien Bourjeily, filmmaker and political activist. “At 9 am, news of Lokman’s murder broke – of course that murder had a lot of negative repercussions. From this moment on, we cannot predict what will happen. This affected the socio-political mood in the country. We fear who will be next, fear a wave of political assassinations. “

Correction, February 14, 2021: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the date Slim issued a statement holding Hebzollah leaders and the Lebanese military accountable for his security. It was in December 2019.


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