Prominent Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim was gunned down this week in Southern Lebanon, a stronghold for the group.
The 59-year-old activist went missing on Wednesday evening after a visit to a friend’s house. He was found dead the next morning inside his rental car, with four shots to the head and one in the back.
“He was like a flower, and he will not wither,” his sister Rasha Al Ameen told local media.
“Everyone knows who controls the area,” she said referring to the Hezbollah-controlled South. “Killing for them is something normal.”
The powerful Iran-funded militia and political party has representation in Parliament and is considered a terrorist group by the US and some European countries. Its supporters say they are a resistance group defending Lebanon against Israel.
Slim’s killing is the first high-profile political assassination since the murder of Mohamed Chatah in 2013, a former minister close to the slain prime minister Rafic Hariri, both of them politically aligned against Hezbollah at the time of their killing.
Unlike Chatah and Hariri, Slim is a Shiite, the same religious community as Hezbollah. Its supporters had launched smear campaigns against Slim and other dissenting Shiites in recent years. In 2019 they accused him of being a foreign agent and a “Shiite of the embassies”.
He has received multiple threats for his activism over the years. His killing is a worrying sign for freedom of speech in a country that has long been a haven for journalists and activists.
In a statement released on December 13 2019, Slim said he had been harassed and attacked twice in the past two days.
He had been invited to a talk in Beirut's Riad Al Solh square, where many anti-government protest groups had set up tents, but the event was disrupted by Amal and Hezbollah supporters, who falsely accused him of promoting normalisation with Israel. They burned down the tent that was supposed to host the debate.
He said that these people had chanted slogans accusing him of treason, and plastered insulting banners on his family home in Haret Hreik, a Beirut suburb that is also a Hezbollah stronghold.
“I hold the de facto leaders represented by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Mister Nabih Berri (Parliament Speaker and leader of the Hezbollah-allied Amal movement) fully responsible for what happened and for what may happen (to me) in the future and I seek protection for my house, our family home and its inhabitants from Lebanese security forces and the Lebanese army.”
An active filmmaker, writer and political activist, Lokman Slim was one of the few outspoken voices against Hezbollah within the Shiite community. He founded NGO Umam Documentation and Research, which aimed to archive footage and resources on the civil war and Lebanese history. He was also active in the mass anti-government protest movement that took Lebanon by storm in October 2019.
At the time, demonstrators took to the streets in their thousands to demand better living conditions and the fall of a sectarian political system in place since the end of the civil war in 1990, which they say is corrupt.
Slim’s assassination comes on the six-month anniversary of a devastating blast at the Beirut port, killing more than 200 people and wounding at least 6,500.
The investigation into the causes of the blast is yet to produce any result. The blast was triggered by thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser also used in bomb-making stored unsafely since 2013 at the port, which caught fire and exploded.
Slim had told Al Hadath TV in an interview last month that “the first accused” in the storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at Beirut port is “Hezbollah’s militia.”
He has accused the group of working with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to bring the explosive material to Beirut, hinting at its potential use as a weapon by the Syrian regime.
“Hezbollah has the power of instilling fear in Lebanese. This fear that was instilled in all Lebanese, even those who oppose it, discouraging people from pointing fingers at Hezbollah is a crime against the people of Lebanon and before them, against the Syrians.”
Hezbollah has actively supported Mr Assad in the Syrian civil war since 2012. The Syrian President has been accused of war crimes and using chemical weapons against his constituents by NGOs and the United Nations.
Caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab instructed Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi to “speed up investigations aimed at uncovering the circumstances” of Slim's killing in a statement on Thursday.