A multi-faith memorial service for Lebanese activist Lokman Slim, who was killed last week, triggered a row Thursday after a Shiite cleric was attacked on social media for taking part.
Slim, an academic and leading secular voice from the Shiite community, was routinely criticized and often threatened over his stance against the powerful Shiite movement Hizbullah.
The service, broadcast live by several channels, included a reading from the Koran and hymn-singing. It was attended by friends, family and diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea.
Many praised the service as an expression of co-existence between Lebanon’s many sects but it also invited criticism.
Ali al-Khalil, the Shiite cleric who read the Koran, came under attack on social media from Hizbullah loyalists and later apologized for attending the event.
“I apologize to all brothers and sisters who watched me on television channels I should not have appeared on,” Khalil said in a video widely circulated online.
“I should not have… put myself in a position that invites suspicion.
“My (political) orientation is known,” he said, referring to his support for the Iran-backed Hizbullah.
Activists on social media saw the apology as further evidence of the kind of pressure the movement exerts on dissenters or anyone perceived as cozying up to its opponents or enemies.
“They made him apologize because he prayed for Lokman Slim,” the BlogBaladi activist page said on Facebook, referring to the Shiite group.
Christian supporters of the Hizbullah-allied Free Patriotic Movement also objected to the service, but for different reasons.
“This is clear heresy and an insult to sanctity,” said one social media user who identified as an FPM supporter and took issue with the choice of music.
“Christian rituals dictate that Good Friday hymns are to be chanted exclusively at funerals for Christians,” he said.
Several other FPM activists on Twitter echoed his grievance.
Lokman was widely hated by Hizbullah loyalists who accused him of being a Western puppet.
He was found shot dead in his car on February 4 in south Lebanon, where Hizbullah has wide influence.
The Shiite group has denounced the murder and called for an investigation, a call repeated Thursday in the weekly statement of its parliamentary bloc.