Life under Isis in Raqqa: The city where smoking a cigarette could see you publicly flogged, imprisoned and even decapitated

Life in Raqqa is becoming increasingly dangerous for its residents
Life in Raqqa is becoming increasingly dangerous for its residents

Residents of a city besieged by Isis have described living under strict bans on alcohol and cigarettes, with anyone caught smoking publicly flogged, handed huge fines and even reportedly executed.

The group enforces a strict interpretation of Islam in areas in Syria and Iraq under its self-declared ‘caliphate’. Some ultraconservative versions of Sharia denounce the habit as harmful and therefore haram (forbidden).

Raqqa, in Syria, is one of the group’s biggest strongholds.

A leading figure with Isis’s police force was recently found in  Deir-al-Zor beheaded and with a cigarette in his mouth, with the sentence “O Sheikh this is munkar (hateful and evil thing)” written on his body.

Abu Mohammed Hussam, one of the founders of the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) activist group, described the severity of punishments for being caught smoking cigarettes.

“The first time he will be arrested and flogged (40 lashes),” he told The Independent. “If he smokes again, he will be whipped and imprisoned. On the third occasion, he will be taken to a camp in the countryside and fined a large sum of money.”

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Isis swiftly shut down shops selling cigarettes and water pipes after Raqqa fell and banned street vendors from selling smoking materials. One man described militants bending his fingers with pliers after being caught smoking in the street to Al Monitor.

The group also released a series of statements from the so-called Isis ‘Preaching Office’ describing the health problems that made smoking ” a slow suicide“.

Those running cafes said their businesses were suffering because residents were only smoking in the confines of their homes for fear of reprisal. One cafe manager said: “No customers come in. Many of our customers are smokers, and they do not enjoy a cup of coffee if they can’t smoke a cigarette with it. They are indirectly forcing us to close the cafe.”

One man spoke to the Los Angeles Times as he smoked a cigarette near the Akcakale border crossing to Syria in southeast Turkey.

“I’m enjoying it while I can,” he explained. “Once I go across I can’t smoke in the open.”

An official with the Turkey-based Aid Coordination Unit, which delivers supplies to the north of Syria, told The Times they would be forced to throw out cigarettes before crossing into Isis-held territories. “Whenever they approach an Isis checkpoint, our drivers switch the music to Islamic nasheed [chant] and throw any cigarettes they have out the window,” he said.

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media activist from the city of Raqqa, student at the Faculty of Law at the University of the Euphrates. Director of the Media Office of Raqqa, founding member of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently", founding member of the documentary project of "Sound and Picture". I work in documenting violations committed by Assad's regime and ISIS group and extremist organizations inside the city of Raqqa, as I work in programming, design and visual media. I hold a certificate of coach in digital security, and a certificate of journalist coach, and a certificate in documenting violations against human rights, and a certificate in electronic advocacy. I underwent a training under the supervision of "Cyber-Arabs" in collaboration with the Institute for War and Peace "IWPR", about the management of electronic websites and leadership of advocacy campaigns, and a training of press photography under the supervision of the photojournalist "Peter Hove Olesen".