Many fear Slim’s slaying could imperil freedoms in Lebanon Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/February 16/221 سمر قعدي/الإسبوع العربي: كثيرون في لبنان يتخوفون من أن قتل لقمان سليم سيعرض الحريات للخطر
BEIRUT–Following the murder of staunch Hezbollah critic and Shia activist Lokman Slim on February 4, many like-minded journalists, activists and intellectuals fear Lebanon has entered a new phase of spiraling tensions that could be marred by similar assassinations.
Slim’s killing in Hezbollah-dominated south Lebanon broke a pause in political assassinations that had targeted anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah figures after Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005. The majority of those killings took place between 2005 and 2008.
“Lokman’s slaying could mark a transition from a phase that did not witness assassinations to another where such actions are becoming blunt and bold,” said Ali al Amin, a Shia journalist and Hezbollah opponent.
“It could mean that the voices which Lokman Slim represented or mirrored inside and outside the Shia community, should be more cautious, vigilant and apprehensive about a possible series of assassinations.”
Al Amin maintained that acts of violence were linked to the general atmosphere of institutional collapse in the Lebanese body politic.
“The deterioration of the political and economic situation in the country and in the security and military institutions make us dread more assassinations in the future as blunt as Lokman’s assassination,” he said.
“Naturally, any voice that opposes Hezbollah would be subject to dangers and intimidation. I fear we are entering a phase of security chaos during which anything could happen,” Al Amine added.
A journalist, political analyst and activist known as one of the leading Shia voices critical of Hezbollah, Slim was regularly attacked in media loyal to the powerful group. He was often criticised by Hezbollah supporters for being instrumentalised by the United States and said he had received death threats more than once.
Pro-Hezbollah circles have alleged that Slim was killed in a Hezbollah stronghold in order to smear the Iran-backed group.
Mona Fayyad, a university professor and outspoken Shia critic of Hezbollah, disputed what she called attempts to “exonerate” the powerful party.
“Lokman was kidnapped openly at a road checkpoint, he was held for hours and his body was found many kilometers away from where he was snatched… Is it possible that all this happened without the knowledge of Hezbollah which has cameras everywhere and monitors every movement in such a high security area?” Fayyad asked.
“This is a question addressed to Hezbollah. They should give answers to acquit themselves,” she said.
“They cannot escape accusations and blame. Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah chief) boasts that he knows what’s happening in as far as Haifa … How come he was not aware of things happening in south Lebanon. Logic says there is one party responsible for the killing and that is Hezbollah… If not, it means that Hezbollah’s security apparatus has been seriously infiltrated,” Fayyad said.
According to Fayyad, Hezbollah has drawn up a hit list in which Slim figured.
“They have updated this list to include more targets not only in the Shia community but on the national level. We have all been threatened be it on social media or through the insults made publicly, but if they think that they can silence me or repress freedom of expression by resorting to such means I can assure you they are wrong,” Fayyad said.
“The killing in (mainly Shia-inhabited) south Lebanon is a message aimed at intimidating Hezbollah critics in the Shia community. It also carries a message from Iran to the Americans which says you don’t want Hezbollah in the government but Hezbollah controls the country,” she added.
Lebanon has been run by an ineffective caretaker government since August. Divisions among Lebanon’s sectarian leadership have hampered attempts to form a new cabinet by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, leading to growing dissent, anger and grief amid a deepening economic and financial crisis.
Activists, writers and intellectuals are increasingly apprehensive that media freedoms and freedom of expression are at risk. Many said they saw Slim’s assassination as an attempt to silence dissent.
“Let the authorities go and find the murderer immediately, otherwise they are as criminal as those who gunned down Lokman,” one Twitter user said.
Most Lebanese have little or no trust in the judiciary and fear Slim’s killing will not be resolved and further assassinations will not be thwarted as long as the real perpetrators are not exposed and punished.
“We have witnessed many political assassinations in the past that went unpunished. We all know there is no justice and there is no transparency in inquiries,” Al Amin said.
“Today every opinionated person in Lebanon who has different views than theirs (Hezbollah’s) has fears. But we have no choice but to express ourselves although the chaos besetting the country today may very well be the perfect environment for more assassinations,” Al Amin added.