Lebanon: Prominent Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim found murdered
Lebanese activist and publisher Lokman Slim, a fierce critic of Hezbollah, was found shot dead in his car on Thursday morning.
Slim's body was moved to a government hospital in the southern city of Sidon, where the pathologist said he was shot four times in the head and once in the back, according to the National News Agency.
Slim was found in a rental car at around 7 am on a quiet road seldom travelled by local residents, between the villages of Tufahta and Addousiyeh in south Lebanon.
'He wanted to bring his truth to light. And he did that, but he paid the price for it. It is really sad and horrible'
- Nadim el-Kak, friend and relative
Security forces contacted the rental company to verify the identity of the person who had leased the car, which, the company confirmed to MEE, was rented by Slim on 30 January.
A security source said that preliminary findings indicate that Slim was killed at 11:30pm on Wednesday. At 8:00 pm, he left his friends’ house in Mazraat Niha, 40 minutes away from the scene of the crime, and all contact with him was lost thereafter.
Slim’s phone was found 300 metres away from the house he was visiting.
Unable to reach him, the family had contacted the rental company to see if the car could be traced, but were told that it did not have a tracking device installed.
Slim, who lived in the southern Beirut neighbourhoods seen as Hezbollah's stronghold, was one of the Iran-backed movement’s most strident critics from its own Shia community.
The motive and perpetrators of his murder have not yet been officially ascertained. Slim had begun receiving death threats in recent weeks, his family said.
Nadim el-Kak, a friend and relative, described Slim as resilient and courageous for highlighting human rights violations by the Syrian government and casting a spotlight on Hezbollah's role in Syria and Lebanon, despite the dangers.
"Despite that, he chose to stay rather than leave when he could have… he wasn't willing to back down from those principles. He wanted to bring his truth to light. And he did that, but he paid the price for it. It is really sad and horrible," Kak told Middle East Eye.
Slim co-founded Umam Documentation and Research in 2005, a group focusing on archiving Lebanon's violent past with the aim of raising awareness and preventing further conflict. He also made several documentary films with his wife Monika Borgmann.
The activist is one of the most prominent figures to be gunned down since Samir Kassir, a journalist and critic of the Syrian government and its allies, was killed in 2005.
"Well it certainly brings back memories of the post 2005 period and the assassination that followed, beginning with Samir Kassir," Maha Yehya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told MEE.
"This is a clear signal that the space for dissent, especially within the community, is shutting down. A resounding message with one killing."
'Lebanese state is ultimately responsible'
Hezbollah said it condemned the killing, which Lebanese officials, including the president, called an assassination.
Human rights groups, the United Nations and Western diplomats all demanded an investigation. "We deplore the prevailing culture of impunity," EU ambassador Ralph Tarraf tweeted.
"Lokman Slim was at the forefront of the struggle against impunity in post-war Lebanon actively advocating for the right of the families of the missing and disappeared to justice and truth, alongside families' associations a handful of other organisations and activists brave enough to defy the reigning pattern of impunity," said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"Today, Lokman Slim is the victim of this decades-old pattern of impunity, which has ensured that past and present targeted killings of activists, journalists and intellectuals remain unpunished, and for which the Lebanese state is ultimately responsible."
Slim's murder comes weeks after a Lebanese photojournalist working for the army, Joseph Bejjani, was gunned down after dropping off his daughter at school.
Reporters Without Borders described the incident as shocking and called for an immediate investigation into the murder.
“If this murder goes unpunished, it will open the way to a climate of fear for all Lebanese journalists and the prospect of a grim future for critical media in Lebanon,” Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said in a statement.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.