Fear of assassination has gripped many journalists in Lebanon following the recent attempt on the life of May Chidiac, 41, a prominent anchorwoman on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC).
Chidiac was seriously injured – she lost an arm and a leg – when a bomb placed under the driver’s seat went off in a Christian neighbourhood east of Beirut on 25 September.
“All journalists are scared,” Ghanem told Aljazeera.net in east Beirut‘s Hotel Dieu Hospital, where she was waiting to hear about Chidiac’s condition.
Ghanem and Chidiac are both news presenters on LBC and political interviewers of a daily morning programme.
Chidiac is the second journalist to be targeted since the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April. Columnist Samir Kassir was killed on 2 June in a similar bomb blast.
“Journalists must open their eyes wide and take precautions in such a highly tense atmosphere,” says Nabil Bou Monsef, Lebanon editor of the leading An-Nahar daily.
Kassir’s front-page columns that were critical of Syria and its allies in Lebanon were published every Friday in An-Nahar until his tragic death.
Like other senior journalists in the paper, Bou Monsef, 48, is taking all possible security measures. He does not disclose the details but says: “I presume that I’m a target and act accordingly.”
Bou Monsef says that even young journalists working in his paper have expressed fears that journalists may now be in the firing line.
An-Nahar’s general manager, Gebran Tueini, left for France a few weeks ago after he received information from security officers indicating that he could be on a hit list.
The explosion which maimed Chidiac was the latest in a slew of bomb blasts targeting mainly political figures since 1 October 2004. when Druze MP Marwan Hamade survived an assassination attempt shortly after he voted in parliament against a constitutional amendment enabling pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to stay in power for another three years.
Samir Kassir, 45, was killed in a
On 14 February 2005 former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri was killed in a massive bomb blast. His top aide, former economy minister Bassel Fuleihan, died two months later from injuries sustained in the explosion.
Communist leader George Hawi was killed in late June. And Defence Minister Elias Murr survived an assassination attempt last July.
Many Lebanese accuse Syria of being behind the assassinations, saying it continues to give orders to the local security apparatus, which it helped form during its 29-year stay in Lebanon.
Four pro-Syrian security chiefs were arrested last month at the request of German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is leading the UN Security Council-mandated investigation into al-Hariri’s assassination.
Don’t ask questions?
Some of Lebanon’s journalists expressed concern that their colleagues may now be far too intimidated to ask hard-hitting questions or investigate pressing domestic issues.
Joseph Samaha, editor-in-chief of the left-wing As-Safir newspaper, believes the “scope of assassinations has expanded to include journalists who simply ask questions”.
“The scope of assassinations has expanded to include journalists who simply ask questions”
“Chidiac was simply posing questions that reflected the views and feelings of her Christian community,” he said.
Samaha told Aljazeera.net that in addition to the threat of physical harm, Lebanon’s journalists were also facing new taboos restricting their press freedoms in the wake of Syria’s withdrawal from the country.
“Can any journalist ask: ‘Who is Detlev Mehlis?’ The journalist will immediately be accused of shaking the confidence of the investigation team and that he or she does not want the truth to be revealed about who killed al-Hariri,” he said.
Samaha was harshly criticised for a front-page column he wrote on 14 September warning the Lebanese not to forget what he called the misinformation spread by former chief UN arms inspector in Iraq Richard Butler, who had insisted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
The Arabic leading daily Al-Hayat’s Walid Choucair replied in an article thus: “Those who come up with arguments to doubt beforehand the mission of the international investigation committee reject the truth if it is spelled out by the US, just as the US rejected the truth when it was spelled out by Hans Blix” (who replaced Butler and criticised the insistence of the US that Iraq owned WMDs).
Most media organisations, including Future Television (owned by al-Hariri family), have tightened security measures in and around their offices, especially at employee car parking lots.
Last week, security personnel guarding the English-language Daily Star reported two cars driving around the building several times late at night.
Security measures have been
One vehicle stopped and the driver asked the guards if the building housed the offices of the newspaper.
Word of the incident caused panic among The Daily Star’s employees.
In the meantime, LBC and Chidiac’s colleagues have pledged to support her until she is back on air.
“I promise May that my voice is hers and my arm is hers and my leg is hers until she comes back to us,” screamed Ghanem in an emotional speech she gave during a protest held last week.
Trail of blood
In addition to Kassir, at least nine other Lebanese journalists have been assassinated in the country in more than four decades. They include:
Nassib Metni, who was critical of attempts by then president Camille Chamoun to renew his mandate, was killed in 1958.
Kamel Mrowa, the founder of Al-Hayat, was shot dead in his office in May 1966 by a Nasserite group, which accused him of “collaborating” with Western powers.
Salim al-Lawzi, editor of Al-Hawadeth magazine, was found dead in a field in Aramoun, south of Beirut, several days after his abduction in 1980. He was found with two bullets in his head and forensic examination indicated he had been beaten severely.
Nine years later, a court sentenced Mohammed Hussein Yateem, who was a commander with the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, to five years in prison for kidnapping Lawzi. The court found no evidence that Yateem was involved in the killing.
The head of the press syndicate was also shot dead near his home in western Beirut in 1980.
Talal Salman, publisher of As-Safir, survived an assassination attempt in 1984.