Qassir’s killers still at large after one year

New York, June 1, 2006—A year after Lebanese journalist Samir Qassir was murdered in a Beirut car bombing those responsible remain at large. The Committee to Protect Journalists reiterates its call to Lebanese authorities and the international community to work urgently to bring to justice those behind Qassir’s murder, and the murder and maiming of two other journalists last year.

On June 2, 2005, Qassir, a prominent columnist for the daily Al-Nahar, was killed outside his home in East Beirut by a bomb placed in his car. A leading figure in the Democratic Left movement, Qassir wrote extensively about the need for Lebanese independence from Syrian influence. He challenged the security order in Lebanon, and highlighted the inability of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to bring about real political reform.

“This anniversary is a time to remember Samir Qassir for his bravery in journalism, but also to demand justice for this heinous crime,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The failure to find and prosecute those responsible threatens the fundamental ability of the press to do its job, and will embolden those who seek to silence critical voices in the media.”

Qassir’s murder occurred amid a series of assassination attempts and attacks on journalists and political figures in Lebanon following the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005.

Since Hariri’s assassination and the launch of a United Nations inquiry into his murder, at least two other journalists have been targeted. On September 25, 2005 May Chidiac, a political talk-show host with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and a strong critic of Syria, lost an arm and a leg when a bomb exploded under the driver’s seat of her car near the port city of Jounieh. Three months later, Gebran Tueni, Al-Nahar’s managing director and columnist, was killed by a bomb that targeted his armored vehicle in east Beirut. Tueni was a member of parliament and harsh critic of Syrian policies. He was killed on December 12—the day he returned home from Paris, where he had spent considerable time because of fears for his safety.

To date, the murders of Qassir and Tueni and the attack on Chidiac remain unsolved. In December 2005, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the International Independent Investigation Commission probing the Hariri killing to “extend its technical assistance” to Lebanese authorities for their investigations into attacks on journalists and other political figures over the past year. It also called on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan to “present recommendations to expand the mandate of the Commission to include investigations of those other attacks.”

The Commission’s March 14, 2006 report noted that it had since provided assistance with crime and legal analysis, and forensics for the post-Hariri attacks, but noted that “mindful of the Commission’s continuing operational focus on the Hariri investigation, the provision of such assistance takes place on a case-by-case basis and is governed significantly by the amount of resources available to the Commission for these tasks.” The report added, “More detailed technical assistance may become necessary should preliminary assessments indicate potential linkages between the [attacks] or with the Hariri investigation.”

CPJ urges the United Nations to fully commit itself to unearthing the truth about these attacks by extending full technical cooperation to investigators. The United Nations should also consider expanding the Commission’s mandate to ensure that the investigations into the murders and attempted murder of journalists are incorporated into its mandate.

“We call on the Lebanese government and the international community to work together to ensure that a serious and sustained investigation is carried out,” Cooper said. “Doing so would send an unmistakable message that the world will not allow the murder of journalists to go unpunished. Samir Qassir fought for justice throughout his life. After his death, his legacy cannot be impunity.”