Prominent Hezbollah critic killed in Lebanon

By Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam BEIRUT (Reuters) - A prominent Lebanese Shi'ite publisher who criticised the armed Hezbollah movement was shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, the first such killing of a high-profile activist in years. A judge following the case said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back

Reuters February 05, 2021 00:11:25 IST
Prominent Hezbollah critic killed in Lebanon

Prominent Hezbollah critic killed in Lebanon

By Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A prominent Lebanese Shi'ite publisher who criticised the armed Hezbollah movement was shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, the first such killing of a high-profile activist in years.

A judge following the case said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back. A security source said his phone was found on the side of a road.

They said the motive for the killing was unclear.

Slim, who was in his late 50s, ran a research centre, made documentaries with his wife and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon's 1975-1990 sectarian civil war.

He spoke against what he described as the Iranian-backed, Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah's intimidation tactics and attempts to monopolise Lebanese politics.

His sister suggested Slim had been murdered because of this. He was last seen after visiting a poet friend. His wife said he had gone missing overnight.

Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment on his death, which the French ambassador and Lebanese officials, including the president, called an assassination.

Human rights groups, a top U.N. diplomat in Lebanon and the European Union ambassador, Ralph Tarraf, all demanded an investigation. "We deplore the prevailing culture of impunity," Tarraf wrote in a tweet.

A Lebanese press freedom centre, SKeyes, said it feared a cover-up of the crime and more attempts to eliminate "symbols of free political thought".

SKeyes was founded after a car bomb killed journalist Samir Kassir in 2005, at a time when a series of assassinations hit Lebanon targeting critics of Syria's 15-year domination.

At Slim's family home in Beirut's southern suburbs, where Hezbollah holds sway, relatives sat in shock. Some wept in silence. One relative said they had found out about his death from a news alert while at a police station.

"What a big loss. And they lost a noble enemy too ... It's rare for someone to argue with them and live among them with respect," his sister Rasha told reporters, without naming Hezbollah.

She said he had not mentioned any threats. "Killing is the only language they are fluent in," she added. "I don't know how we will go on with our work ... It will be hard."

'A BIG LOSS'

In an interview last month on Saudi's al-Hadath TV, Slim said he believed Damascus and its ally Hezbollah had a role in the port blast that ripped through Beirut in August, killing 200 people and injuring thousands.

Hezbollah has denied any links to the explosion.

President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said he had ordered an investigation into the crime.

Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri, whose father Rafik was assassinated in 2005, triggering regional upheaval, said Slim had been clearer than most in identifying the source of danger to the nation.

Slim's criticism of Hezbollah faced rebuke from its supporters, who called him "an embassy Shi'ite," accusing him of being a tool of the United States.

Washington, which classifies Hezbollah as terrorists, has ramped up sanctions against it to pressure Tehran.

Slim founded a nonprofit to promote civil liberties which received a grant under the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative and worked with an American think tank, leaked WikiLeaks diplomatic cables said in 2008.

In late 2019, Slim said people had gathered in his garden, chanting slurs and threats. His statement held Hezbollah's leader responsible.

At the time, Slim also said he had received death threats after speaking in a debate at a Beirut camp that activists set up when protests against all the country's political leaders swept Lebanon.

"His murder is a very big loss for Lebanon, for culture," said Hazem Saghieh, a well-known Lebanese journalist. "He was one of a few who only knew how to speak his mind."

(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Alaa Kanaan and Beirut TV; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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