Four years on, Qassir’s killers remain at large

New York, June 1, 2009–On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the murder of Lebanese journalist Samir Qassir, the Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged that those behind the crime are still at large.

Qassir, a prominent columnist for the daily Al-Nahar and an influential democracy advocate, was killed outside his home in East Beirut by a bomb placed in his car on June 2, 2005. His assassination occurred nearly six months before the murder, under similar circumstances, of Gebran Tueni, another outspoken columnist and managing director for the same leading Lebanese daily. Both Qassir and Tueni had earned a reputation for criticizing Syria’s poor human rights record.

Another assiduous critic of neighboring Syria’s government, reporter and talk-show host May Chidiac, formerly with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, lost an arm and a leg when a bomb exploded in September 2005 under the driver’s seat of her car near the port city of Jounieh.

The three incidents occurred amid a series of assassination attempts and attacks on journalists and political figures in Lebanon following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.

To date, no progress has been made in the investigation into the murders of Qassir and Tueni and the assassination attempt on Chidiac. The assassination of Qassir, who held French citizenship in addition to his Lebanese nationality, was also investigated by a French judge.

A Special Court for Lebanon was set up in the Netherlands by the U.N. Security Council in 2007 and inaugurated in March 2009. Lebanese authorities pledged to fully cooperate with the international tribunal, which was set up to shed light on the murder of Hariri and scores of other political and media figures.

“The failure to bring to justice the killers of our colleagues Samir Qassir and Gebran Tueni is a blot on Lebanon’s press freedom record,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “We call on the international tribunal to intensify its efforts to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.”

Special Court Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare was quoted by local and international media as saying that the tribunal was committed to “help the people of Lebanon find the truth.” Gisele Khoury, Qassir’s widow, told CPJ she hopes the tribunal “will soon identify and bring to justice those who killed Samir.” Khoury is head of the Samir Kassir Foundation in Lebanon, which was established to promote independent journalism and protect press freedom in the Arab world.