The Samir Kassir Foundation was established in February 2006, following the assassination of Lebanese journalist and historian Samir Kassir on June 2nd, 2005, shortly after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Kassir was renowned in Lebanon and abroad for his advocacy in favor of the country's independence of all foreign interference, his defense of freedom of speech and cultural rights, as well democracy in Lebanon, Syria and the Arab World.
The foundation was set up to both honor his memory, continue his advocacy and legacy. It is comprised of dedicated staff from different professional backgrounds, business, journalism, the NGO-sector, and politics, along with 80 other members.
The Samir Kassir Foundation works for the promotion of the freedom in Lebanon, monitoring violations across the Middle East and North Africa. The work has two main pillars: the promotion of cultural freedom and freedom of expression, and two main projects, namely the Beirut Spring Festival and the SKeyes (Samir Kassir Eyes) Center for Media and Cultural Freedom established in November 2007.
Beirut Spring festival
Out of the two projects, the Beirut Spring Festival promotes free and open access to culture. It is organised yearly in Beirut and lasts for an entire week, sometimes more, commencing on the day that Samir Kassir was assassinated on June 2nd. In bringing artists from different countries to Beirut where they perform for free, Samir Kassir legacy is alive. The idea behind the festival is to democratize access to culture to all people, rich and poor; and introduce them to international artists. The festival believes in arts as tool to raise awareness, social change and fighting extremism. In fact, it produced a play in 2017 analyzing the background and mind sets of a possible suicide bomber.
In 2015, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Kassir's assassination, it lasted for more than one month, from May 3rd to June 6th, and was a tribute to Beirut, the city the late journalist loved. It also discussed the combination of culture and war in the Syrian model, the balances between freedom and privacy, Palestine and the changing times in the Arab World, and featured several movies and theatrical productions.
SKeyes Media Center
The main focus of SKeyes Center is press freedom. It is the largest center in the Levant actively monitoring violations of press and cultural freedom across the region, mainly Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian territories and beyond when needed. Since the start of the Syrian war, SKeyes Media Center became one of the few reliable sources on harshness journalists and activists face in Syria. It also defends the right of independent Syrian journalists to operate in Lebanon, especially on humanitarian stories related to refugees.
Most of the news it provides is based on correspondents reporting in the countries it covers, all published in a monthly report.This work is driven by the thinking that nothing defines human rights more than the freedom of expression, a belief Samir Kassir carried till his assassination.
In that context the center holds the strong conviction that the acceptance and tolerance of difference in opinions is essential to reconciliation in a still war-torn society like Lebanon. Furthermore it believes that sustainable peace requires free press as well as giving every citizen a voice to express their opinion, because oppression causes frustration and as such provides a fertile ground for the renewal of conflict. Its work includes the provision of financial, legal and technical assistance to prosecuted journalists, as well as the organisation of workshops and seminars which are intended to enhance the work of journalists internationally. It also supports journalists unjustly laid off in the unprecedented financial crisis Lebanese newspapers are facing since 2016. In addition, it promotes the concept and practice of Peace Journalism and Reporting.
As far as the promotion of freedom of expression itself is concerned, the foundation deliberately uses a non-conventional approach in order to achieve their aims. Hence the use of movies, parodies and humor, in order to deliver a message to their audience, are a common feature.
With the decay of the status of the freedom of speech in Lebanon since 2017, SKeyes has been closely monitoring abuses targeting activists, journalists and media figures, providing them with legal and technical support, as well as tools for digital protection. The harassment of reporters increased a lot during the October 17th, 2019 uprising, mainly perpetrated by angry thugs loyal to political parties, and sometimes by security agents. SKeyes documented all the abuses.
Sammir Kassir Award
The foundation has also established the Samir Kassir Award for press freedom. It has three categories, the investigative journalism, audiovisual reports and opinion articles. It has become one of the most prestigious media awards in the Middle East.