BEIRUT – Friends and family members of a slain Lebanese publisher and harsh Hezbollah critic bid him farewell on Thursday at his home in southern Beirut, at a ceremony held amid tight security and attended by Western diplomats.
Lokman Slim, a 58-year-old political activist and commentator, was found dead with six bullets in his body last week on a deserted rural road in the country's south. He was visiting friends there and was due back in Beirut. When he did not return home, his family reported him missing.
Friends and diplomats flooded Slim’s family house in the Beirut southern suburb, a stronghold of Hezbollah. Muslim and Christian prayers were recited at the ceremony.
Salma Mershak, Slim’s mother and a historian, called on the Lebanese to protect his legacy and the country from descending into violence.
“Weapons don’t serve the country. They didn’t serve me, they cost me my son,” said Mershak, an Egyptian who has settled in Lebanon since the 1950s. “My wish is that you use your mind, discuss and talk if you want to create a nation that Lokman deserves.”
The U.S, German and Swiss ambassadors to Lebanon also spoke at the ceremony, demanding that those who killed the well-known researcher be brought to justice.
“This is a barbaric act, unforgivable and unacceptable,” said U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea, standing next to Slim's family at the tightly-secured gathering. “Like him, let us not be deterred. We will push for what is just, we will join you in demanding accountability for this horrific crime."
Andreas Kindl, the German ambassador, described Slim's death as a “personal loss” and called for a transparent investigation.
“We remember Lokman today. Memory and remembrance were at the core of his work” in collaboration with his wife, Monika Borgmann, Kindl said. “His legacy is that we are not allowed to forget what happened last week,” he added.
The brazen killing sparked fears of a new wave of political violence in this country gripped by social and economic upheaval.
Slim’s family has expressed skepticism that a government investigation would lead to those who killed him, citing a history of unresolved assassinations and political crimes in Lebanon. The family had hired a private forensic pathologist to carry out an independent examination of Slim’s body. Many of his friends have suspected Hezbollah supporters had a role in his killing, citing previous threats to the vocal critic of the powerful group.
Hezbollah has condemned the killing, calling for an investigation and dismissing what it called an exploitation of crimes in Lebanon by the media and its political opponents. On Thursday, Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc said in a statement that those leveling unsubstantiated accusation against the group and implicating it in Slim's killing without any evidence should be prosecuted “because they aim to incite chaos.”
Slim and Borgmann founded a research and film production center, documented stories of disappearances, prisons and national trauma in Lebanon and Syria. They also kept an elaborate archive of Lebanon's civil war history.
Slim, a Shiite, was a vocal critic of Hezbollah's hold on power in Lebanon and its regional policies. Still, he decided to continue to live in his home, which became part of the militant group's stronghold years after he was born.
The farewell ceremony for Slim was organized despite a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, another of the multiple crises that have hit Lebanon.