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A protestor holds a picture of Lokman Slim, a writer and Hezbollah critic who was found murdered on February 4, 2021.  © 2021 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

(Beirut) – The Lebanese authorities should conduct a prompt, independent, and transparent investigation into the murder of the prominent writer and Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim, Human Rights Watch said today. Slim, 58, was found dead in his car between the towns of Addousiyyeh and Tefahta in south Lebanon on the morning of February 4, 2021, and a post-mortem examination found that he had been shot five times, four times in his head and once in his back, a public prosecutor said.

Slim’s colleagues told Human Rights Watch that he had been missing since Wednesday evening. He left the house of a friend near the village of Niha in south Lebanon between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and did not return to his home in Haret Hreik in south Beirut. They said that his friends found Slim’s phone around Niha, 30 kilometers from where his body was discovered.

“Lebanon awoke to the chilling news that Lokman Slim, a tireless and prolific advocate for a just and democratic Lebanon, was murdered,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon needs to reverse the culture of impunity for grave crimes that has pervaded since the civil war.”

President Michel Aoun called for an investigation into Slim’s murder.

Rasha al-Amir, Slim’s sister, told the media: “I don’t have any trust in this judiciary and these investigations…It is clear who controls this area…it is not an accusation, it is known, and they have unveiled themselves. For them, killing is normal…So far in Lebanon, all the investigations have led nowhere.” Slim’s wife, Monika Borgmann, called for an international investigation.

Slim was a renowned Shiite activist, writer, and researcher who was a fierce critic of Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite political party and armed group, and an advocate for a secular and democratic Lebanon. Despite his opposition to Hezbollah, Slim lived and worked in areas predominantly controlled by the group.

Slim co-founded Dar Al-Jadeed, an independent publishing house with his sister Rasha. He also founded with his wife a nongovernmental group, UMAM Documentation and Research, devoted to researching and raising awareness about Lebanon’s civil war in order to draw lessons from it to prevent violence in the future. Slim frequently organized debates, film screenings, and exhibitions at UMAM’s headquarters located in the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut.

Slim’s friends and colleagues told Human Rights Watch that he frequently received threats and efforts at intimidation from people affiliated with Hezbollah for his work and his opinions. On December 13, 2019, Slim said in a statement that people had posted flyers containing threats on the wall and entrances to his house in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and had gathered in his garden, chanting threats and slurs. He said that Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Movement would be responsible if he or his family were harmed.

He placed his safety and his family’s under the protection of the Lebanese security forces and the army.

As news of Lokman Slim’s death broke, the son of the Hezbollah leader tweeted that “losing some people is actually a win and an unexpected kindness #noregrets.” He has since deleted the tweet and said that it was unrelated to Slim’s murder.

Slim’s murder is reminiscent of the wave of assassinations that targeted prominent politicians, journalists, and activists who were vocal critics of Hezbollah and of Syria’s influence in Lebanon in the wake of the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. On August 18, 2020, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a United Nations-backed court, convicted a member of Hezbollah of conspiring to kill Hariri in what the judges said was clearly a politically motivated act of terrorism.

Attacks on freedom of speech and expression in Lebanon have increased at an alarming rate in the past few years and have further escalated in the wake of the nationwide protests that began on October 17, 2019. Journalists and activists critical of Hezbollah, especially Shiites, have faced assaults, threats, and intimidation, often with impunity.

“Slim’s family’s lack of trust and confidence in the judiciary is warranted,” Page said. “Lebanon needs to end the decades of impunity that have left brave individuals and political thinkers without the most basic protections and conduct this investigation with the highest levels of transparency and impartiality.”

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