WARNING: DISTURBING VIDEO CONTENT
By Heather Saul
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.”
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.