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Alex Rowell

One year on, no justice for murdered anti-Hezbollah activist

“Our case has been buried,” says brother of late Hashem Salman

Militants wearing Hezbollah attire beat demonstrators outside the Iranian embassy, 9 June, 2013

It was a killing in broad daylight, witnessed by dozens of onlookers, including state security forces and members of the local and international press.

 

Yet one year after student activist Hashem Salman was shot dead outside Beirut’s Iranian embassy during a peaceful demonstration against Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, his killers remain free and a spokesman for the agency undertaking the official investigation was unaware that it was even in his colleagues’ hands.

 

The case file is currently held at an Internal Security Forces (ISF) branch in the southwest Beirut neighborhood of Ouzai, according to lawyers and activists following up on the case with whom NOW spoke. However, when NOW contacted the ISF, the press officer said he knew nothing of it, and suggested contacting the Lebanese Armed Forces instead.

 

“I don’t know [if there has been any progress]. I don’t have any information about this case,” said Maj. Joseph Msallem. “Maybe the army [is handling it]. You can ask the army if you want and if you want also to pursue this case you can send a fax to me.” Subsequent requests for information sent to both the ISF and the army went unanswered.

 

NOW also made inquiries with the Iranian embassy, which had been asked at the time by then-President Michel Suleiman to assist in the investigation. A spokesperson told NOW Monday the embassy had no involvement in the investigation, and no information about it.

 

For the family of Salman, these are distressing indications that officials are either unwilling or unable – or both – to do anything to bring his killers to justice. “Our case has been buried, and nobody is helping us,” Hashem Salman’s brother Hassan told NOW Monday. “We’ve been left alone. Even the media [ignored] us. Nobody is investigating.”

 

This is despite persistent and repeated efforts by the family to press officials to move things forward, said Hassan.

 

“I personally met with everybody. I met with the president. I met with the ministers of justice and interior, in the current cabinet and the previous one. And I met with a lot of politicians. And they all just tell you, ‘We’re going to work on this, we’re not going to leave it,’ but in reality, nothing’s been done. Nothing at all,” he told NOW.

 

Compounding the family’s grief is, Hassan says, the abundance of evidence available implicating Iran’s principal Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, in the crime. At the time, a Reuters correspondent reported witnessing armed Hezbollah members firing on the demonstrators.

 

“This case doesn’t need investigation at all,” said Hassan. “They have the pictures of all the killers that were there, and they know to which militia they belong […] It’s the only case, of all the assassinations that happened since [former Prime Minister] Rafiq Hariri’s, that is very clear, with a lot of evidence and witnesses […] My brother was killed by the Iranian militia [i.e. Hezbollah] and it’s very clear, there’s no doubt about it.” Hezbollah has a longstanding policy of not commenting to most media outlets, including NOW.

 

Consequently, Hassan sees two key reasons why the case has been shelved. The first is that Hezbollah’s influence over the relevant state institutions, backed by its paramilitary muscle, is simply too powerful to overcome.

 

“Nobody is allowed to come near the Iranian militia. Who’s going to go to them and tell them, ‘Give us the murderers’? No one’s got the balls,” he told NOW.

 

The second, he believes, is that the anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition has privately agreed to drop Hashem’s case in return for concessions from its pro-Hezbollah March 8 rivals, with whom it now shares a cabinet.

 

“There are deals under the table between politicians from March 14 and March 8 – you cover your eyes for this case, we cover our eyes for that case. You give us this, we give you that. This is how it’s working,” said Hassan.

 

Despite the long odds against them, Hassan says he and his family will continue their fight for justice, starting with a press conference Tuesday to highlight photographic and other evidence they have compiled.

 

“We’re not going to [abandon] the blood of our Hashem. It’s our blood, [and] we won’t sell it. Because lots of the politicians in Lebanon are buying and selling. They don’t believe in real freedom, they don’t believe in justice, they don’t believe in human rights and our right to be free. We adore freedom. Hashem adored freedom. Hashem died for freedom.”

 

“The case of Hashem is the case for all free people in the world, not only in Lebanon.”

 

How it happened

 

- On Sunday, 9 June, 2013, a small group of unarmed students arrived by bus to the Iranian embassy in Bir Hassan, southwest Beirut, where the interior ministry had given them permission to hold a demonstration calling for the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters from Syria.

 

- As soon as the students disembarked, “men with handguns and dressed in black with the yellow arm-bands of Hezbollah” approached and began assaulting them with batons, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

 

- Moments later, according to the same Reuters report, “The gunmen drew their weapons and fired. Several protestors were hit.”

 

- The leader of the student group, Hashem Salman, was among those shot “in front of the Internal Security [Forces], in front of the Lebanese army,” said his brother, Hassan. According to multiple eyewitnesses, the Hezbollah forces prevented anyone from taking the severely wounded, but then still alive, Hashem to get medical care. “Nobody was allowed to help Hashem, nobody was allowed to take him to the hospital,” said Hassan. He died shortly afterward.

 

- The following day, Hezbollah officials refused to allow Salman’s body to be buried in the public cemetery in his south Lebanese home town of Adloun, compelling them to bury him on private land instead.

 

Myra Abdallah contributed reporting

Salman and his fellow student activists were attacked the moment they arrived at the Iranian embassy last June. (Source: lebanonews.net)

“Nobody is allowed to come near the Iranian militia. Who’s going to go to them and tell them, ‘Give us the murderers’? No one’s got the balls.”