Harassment of Lebanese journalists can kill, says RSF for Lokman Slim's birthday
The Lebanese political commentator Lokman Slim would have been 60 on 17 July. No one has been arrested for his February 2021 murder and around 20 other Lebanese journalists are still being threatened in connection with their work. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities to render justice to Slim and do whatever is necessary to protect journalists who are being threatened.
“In Lebanon, the harassment of journalists can be deadly and Lokman Slim is the proof,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The harassment can be stepped up and become threats and, finally, the threats can be carried out. We urge the authorities to shed light on those responsible for Slim’s murder, and to take victims seriously when they report intimidation by providing them with protection and preventing another tragedy.”
A price had been put on Slim’s head. Death threats had been posted on the wall of his home in a southern suburb of Beirut. When he was finally found dead in his car on 4 February 2021, he had multiple gunshot injuries to the head. In one of his last TV interviews, the founder of the Shia Watch website described the corruption in his country. A year after his death, RSF referred the growing violence against Lebanese journalists to the UN, so far without any response.
Slim was subjected to an intense hate campaign on his Facebook account. Some social media users celebrated his death and, amid hundreds of insults, praised Hezbollah for “taking the trash out.” Although his murder was never properly investigated, the Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal were widely suspected.
“I hold [Hezbollah secretary-general] Hassan Nasrallah and [Amal Movement leader] Nabih Berri responsible for anything that happens to me,” Slim said on 13 December 2019, denouncing the hate messages to which he was being subjected. Nasrallah’s son, Jawad Nasrallah, reacted to the news of Slim’s death by commenting in a (later deleted) tweet: “The loss of some is in reality an unexpected gain and kindness for others.”
Diana Moukalled, the co-founder of the independent website Daraj, knew Slim personally. “They didn’t stop at killing him,” she said. “They also wanted to destroy his image, spread fake news, and demonise him in order to destroy his memory. When I post a comment commemorating Lokman or asking for justice for him, I get some backlash.”
Slim was especially exposed, but other journalists are still often attacked and are extremely vulnerable. According to an RSF tally, at least 27 journalists have been the victims of cyber-harassment and threats since the Beirut port explosion on 4 August 2020.
“A page affiliated with Hezbollah shared one of my reports,” said Riad Kobeissi, the head of the investigations department at Al-Jadeed TV. “I get a lot of messages saying, ‘you’d better not engage with this issue, because we’re going to be in total chaos and in the chaos you could be the first one to go down.’”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another reporter said: “The campaigns accuse us of being funded by embassies to report on different matters. Fake allegations that we’re agents of the United States and Israel. I’m always accompanied by other colleagues. In this country, anything can happen to you. No one is safe.”