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Al-Rouwad halts series on Aoun assassination bid after threats

BEIRUT: The editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper, Al-Rouwad, has decided to end a series on the attempted assassination of Michel Aoun after the publication began receiving threats.

In recent weeks, the paper’s stories have sent shockwaves through the political and judicial communities. Last month, State Prosecutor Said Mirza summoned Editor-in-Chief Maria Maalouf for questioning after Al-Rouwad ran an interview with Habib Shartouni, the fugitive assassin of former President Bashir Gemayel.

Threats mounted against the newspaper after it published an exclusive story, one in a series of investigative reports, on the alleged assassination attempt in 1989 of then Lebanese Army Commander General Michel Aoun by officials of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

While there is no law against disclosing such information, Maalouf decided not to run the second article on the attempted assassination of Aoun.

“No one can guarantee your rights or your safety, because the state we live in is a farm of militias,” Maalouf told The Daily Star in an interview.

According to Maalouf, the decision not to publish the second part of the exclusive story would allow Al-Rouwad to continue its work.

Although many Lebanese were keen to read the second part of Al-Rouwad’s story, it was not in its first October issue.

The first part of the exclusive story entitled “Preparing the Operation. Commissioning and Surveying in Cyprus” detailed the initial planning of the assassination attempt, including the men assigned to carry out the operation.

According to the story, an official named Adib al-Halabi commissioned another SSNP member, Sleiman al-Khafaji, to oversee the assassination of Aoun in 1989. The story said that Khafaji was told that he, along with four other people, would bring down a helicopter used by Aoun at Larnaca airport.

“The weapons to be used in the assassination were Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM-7) … and machine guns and grenades in case of any emergency,” said the story in Arabic.

Maalouf added that although Aoun and the SSNP are aware of the assassination attempt 22-years ago, neither want the public to know about it.

“The SSNP thinks that Al-Rouwad newspaper is targeting them by this article … but in reality we don’t want to harm anyone. We are just trying to expose hidden truths from the past,” Maalouf explained.

“The Free Patriotic Movement led by Aoun and the SSNP are now in the same boat and cannot tolerate such stories,” said Maalouf in reference to the alliance between the parties, which are both in the March 8 coalition.

One of the oldest Arabic newspapers in Lebanon, Al-Rouwad was founded by Beshara Maroun in 1932. It stopped publishing years before the Lebanese Civil War and began publishing again recently.

While journalists and newspapers are often caught in crossfire between rival parties in the country, a media activist said Wednesday that “nothing” could justify a threat against the media.

“Even if stories written by journalists are controversial or wrong … it doesn’t justify any attempt to threaten the writer or the newspaper,” said Ayman Mehanna, executive director of Samir Kassir Eyes Foundation, a media watchdog.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Mehanna said that no party or individual has the right to interfere in another person’s freedom of opinion.

“A judge and only a judge can pass a verdict or accuse a writer of guilt after a thorough investigation that clearly indicates the writer’s fault and intent,” Mehanna explained.

Many incidents and stories from time of the country’s Civil War remain unknown, but according to Maalouf, “Lebanese have developed a sickness against knowing the truth.” 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 06, 2011, on page 3.

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