Lebanon’s extreme censorship

ASSASSINATION is the extreme form of censorship," wrote the noted British playwright George Bernard Shaw. The censor described here by Bernard Shaw struck once again in Lebanon last Thursday, this time claiming an outspoken journalist and scholar.

By Claude Salhani

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 8 Jun 2005, 10:06 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:51 PM

Samir Kassir was killed — he was ‘censored’ — for voicing his opposition to Syria’s meddling in Lebanon. The front-page columnist writing for Beirut's leading An Nahar newspaper was assassinated because he spoke the truth. He was killed when a bomb placed in his car exploded outside his house. Censorship in Lebanon at times comes with a heavy hand.

Kassir’s killers believe, wrongly one may add, that they have silenced him. They are grossly mistaken. They fail to realise that for every Samir Kassir they kill, there will be two, three and even more, ready to take his place and to tell the story as it must be told. They should also know that terror does not work in the long run. By committing this heinous crime, they have already lost the moral battleground. It’s only a matter of time before they lose out completely. If in doubt, they should take a good look at Milosevic’s Serbia, Saddam’s Iraq, and other former political powerhouses who ruled by terror. Where are they now?

While the killer’s heavy-handed tactics might have silenced a few, they did not frighten Kassir. In an April 2001 article in the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin (MEIB), Gary Gambill quoted Kassir as saying he was under General Security Directorate (GSD) surveillance and "was followed continuously by unmarked cars." Sometimes the censors lack discretion. The MEIB article goes on to say Kassir had "received a phone call from the director of the GSD, Gen. Jamil Al Sayyid, a close ally of the Syrian regime." According to the report, Sayyid threatened Kassir "for writing an article in which he criticised the security services for failing to prevent clashes between the army and militants in north Lebanon."

That incident showed just how deeply involved the GSD was with Syria, which the article states "takes orders directly from Syria," and "is operating without the knowledge or consent of (then) Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and many members of his cabinet." Hariri was assassinated on February 14, also killed by a bomb.

In response to a statement from then Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi, the GSD, reported MEIB, "immediately released a statement in response to Aridi, saying that it 'does not need lessons in democracy from people who have showed in the past that they have an anti-democratic attitude’.” This was an apparent reference to Aridi’s civil war past and his membership in Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. The sad truth is that those claiming not to need lessons in democracy are usually those needing it the most.

Kassir’s assassination drew international attention. Robert Menard of Reporters Without Borders, voiced dismay at the killing. "We are in a complete state of shock after Samir Kassir's cowardly murder," Menard said. "We have lost a friend, and Press freedom has lost a passionate defender." Menard called for the French authorities and the UN Commission, now in Beirut investigating the assassination of Hariri, to "pay particular attention to this new act of terrorism." Kassir also held French citizenship. "Those responsible for the murder, which targeted a great journalist, must be identified, arrested and punished," said Menard.

Kassir's assassination acts as a reminder that despite the removal of foreign forces from Lebanon, "independent security services," to quote Kassir, still freely operate, and will continue to do so until a new leadership — that includes the presidency — is able to assert control over the security situation. A high-ranking Lebanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me he believed the failed attack last October on Marwan Hamadeh, a former minister in Hariri's Cabinet, as well as the killing of the former prime minister, were carried out by "a unit of the Lebanese security services acting for Syria." However, added the official, "They are not necessarily acting with the consent of Damascus."

Lebanese security chiefs were either cashiered or resigned under pressure from the Lebanese opposition who accused them of involvement in Hariri's killing. It was also found they were too close to the Syrian intelligence services. The killings of Kassir and Hariri are indications that those ordering the assassinations are getting desperate. Ukraine’s former President Leonid Kutchma also took to killing journalists. Hariri's killing started a chain reaction, creating a popular movement that forced the Syrians out of Lebanon. The killing of Kassir has prompted calls for the resignation of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, seen by many as being far too sympathetic to the Syrians.

Jumblatt, a prominent opposition leader, stopped short of accusing Syria, saying: "It is hard to jump to conclusions." Still, Jumblatt has repeatedly called for Lahoud's resignation. He accuses the Lebanese president of covering for the intelligence and security chiefs, and warned of more assassinations as long as Lahoud remains president. "Our battle is not over," said Gibran Tueini, publisher of An Nahar and Kassir's editor, who is also a staunch opponent of Syria.

It remains to be seen if the popular Lebanese movement — what President Bush called the Cedar Revolution — and which forced Syria to pull its forces out of Lebanon, and the resignation of Prime Minister Karame, can now succeed in getting the president to resign?

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington

More news from