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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Lebanese activists call for Hezbollah to disarm after murder of Lokman Slim

High-profile Lebanese sign petition opposing movement's grip on country

A car drives past a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Bint Jbeil, southern Lebanon. Reuters
A car drives past a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Bint Jbeil, southern Lebanon. Reuters

Prominent Lebanese figures are calling for a boycott of Hezbollah after the murder of one of the militia's most vocal critics.

The declaration published last Thursday came after Lokman Slim, a publisher, filmmaker and critic of the group, was shot dead in southern Lebanon.

Signatories say Lebanon's collapse is "primarily due to Hezbollah's control of the country and protection of institutionalised criminality and corruption”.

“We do not and will not accept a representation of Hezbollah in government,” the document reads.

The powerful Iran-funded militia holds sway over political life in Lebanon and is the only group that kept its weapons after the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990.

Signed by more than 300 lawyers, journalists, religious figures and intellectuals, the petition urges foreign governments and international institutions to boycott Hezbollah and the ministries it controls until it lays down its arms.

It was written by the Rally for the Revolution, or TMT, a group born from the mass anti-government protest movement that swept the country in October 2019.

Slim's murder sparked fears of a new wave of assassinations against those who oppose Hezbollah, and erosion of freedom of speech.

Lebanon has been run by a caretaker Cabinet for the past six months as political leaders argue over their share of ministerial portfolios amid an economic meltdown.

The country has since 2019 been in financial crisis, caused mainly by decades of mismanagement and corruption.

A cross-sectarian group of people signed the statement, dedicated "to the spirit of Lokman Slim".

They accused Hezbollah of killing "the symbols of a free Lebanon”, putting Slim in a long line of murdered writers, journalists and politicians.

His murder harks back to an era of high-profile assassinations against detractors of the Syrian regime and its Iran-backed ally, which culminated in the murder of former premier Rafik Hariri in 2005.

This week was the 16th anniversary of his killing at the hands of a Hezbollah operative who remains at large.

Among the signatories are Shiite religious figures from southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah stronghold where Slim was killed.

They include Sayyed Hassan Al Amine whose father, cleric Sayyed Ali Al Amine, is well known for his work on religious tolerance.

He was the target of intimidation, threats and a court case for "stirring sectarian discord", all of which he says are politically motivated.

Another high-profile signatory is Fares Souaid, a former member of Parliament and longtime adversary of Hezbollah.

Mr Souaid was a figurehead of the March 14 political alliance that opposed the group after Hariri’s assassination.

Chibli Mallat, a lawyer and former presidential candidate who co-founded TMT, also signed the petition.

Gisele Khoury, a prominent journalist and the wife of slain writer Samir Kassir, killed the same year as Hariri, endorsed the petition.

Journalists criticising Hezbollah say they face legal action and intimidation.

Pro-Hezbollah lawyers filed a complaint against TV host Dima Sadek after she accused the group of orchestrating Slim's murder.

The TV station Sadek works for was blocked in areas Hezbollah controls after the killing.

An outspoken Hezbollah critic, Sadek has faced threats and harassment for years.

In response, the parliamentary media committee convened on Wednesday to discuss criticism of Hezbollah in the media after Slim’s murder.

Imad Salamey, associate professor at the Lebanese American University, said those speaking out were courageous because more violence might be looming.

“Violent campaigns are very likely because we are on the eve of three elections next year: presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections," Mr Salamey said.

He expects violence to increase to prepare the ground for a possible presidential bid by Gebran Bassil, leader of the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement and one of the figures most despised by the protest movement.

Mr Bassil is also the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, described in Thursday's statement as "Hezbollah’s ally and enabler”.

His alliance with the group, now in its 15th year, helped him to the presidency in 2016.

Calls for a boycott of Hezbollah are symbolically powerful at a time when detractors face violence, but Mr Salamey said they would have little real effect.

The question of whether to disarm Hezbollah “is decided in Tehran, not in Beirut", he told The National.

Updated: February 18, 2021 02:49 PM

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