Torture and unlawful killing are just some of the human rights abuses the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are committing in their prisons in Syria, a new report by Amnesty International says.
"In the areas they control, ISIS forces have committed numerous serious rights abuses, including some that amount to war crimes," said Phillip Luther, Amnesty's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "They include abductions, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and unlawful killings."
The report is based on evidence collected from interviews with detainees who had been released from ISIS custody.
The testimony suggested a pattern across Aleppo and the Al-Raqqa provinces of detainees not being informed of their crimes or locations and ISIS denying having them in custody. The detention of children is also described in the report.
"Those abducted and detained by ISIS include children as young as eight who are held together with adults in the same cruel and inhuman conditions," Luther said.
Also documented is the process of short "trials" by an ISIS-appointed judge where prisoners are sentenced to death and harsh punishments within minutes. One former detainee in Al-Raqqa described such a hearing.
"The emir of al-Raqqa came in and sat down. He called out the name of a man, called Fadhel. He stood up. The interrogator said to the emir, 'This is the PKC guy' [in Syria this refers to the Soviet Union-made Kalashnikov machine guns]. The emir said: 'You are fighting the Islamic state. Take him away to qisas [retribution], make his head fly.' A jailer immediately tied him up and took him away."
A former detainee, who spoke to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity, said the report reflected his experience in ISIS custody, where he was held without charge in a cell with many others and subjected to mock executions during his detainment, which lasted several weeks.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, has researched the conduct of rebel groups in Syria, with a particular focus on groups like ISIS. He says the report's findings mirror what he has found in his own research, despite testimony from former detainees being hard to find.
"For me the findings don't come as a surprise," he said. "Torture and abuse of prisoners are rife on the part of all factions in Syria, but ISIS has particular reason to engage in such practices because of their belief in the necessity of applying harsh hudud punishments [Islamic law penalties] for various alleged misdeeds. In addition, ISIS' ideology is inherently totalitarian and does not believe in accountability to the people."
ISIS was formed in April 2013 and in May began to make its presence felt across northern Syria. In the last few months they have taken control of the city of Al-Raqqa and large parts of Aleppo. Their influence is felt up to the Turkish border as the group controls parts of all of the roads leading north from Aleppo.
Their carrot-and-stick approach to governance has seen them take control of many aspects of civilians' daily lives -- bus routes, bread and electricity supply in Al-Raqqa, for example -- and is combined with a heavy-handed approach to breaches of Islamic law and criticism of their practices.
The group has fought against the Free Syrian Army, which works with the Syrian National Coalition, and other western-backed groups and has come down hard on journalists, activists and civil society organizations. One 21-year-old activist, who was detained in August for several days at Mabna Al-Mohafaza in Al-Raqqa, spoke to Amnesty and said ISIS did not recognize the movement of peaceful protest, which led to the military offensive by Bashar Al-Assad and ultimately to the unrest within the country.
"I was approaching the door of the cell to request to go to the toilet when a masked man wearing an explosive belt opened the door," he said. "He pointed at me, so I stood up and gave my name... He accused me of being a collaborator of the regime. I said: 'Don't say that, sheikh, I've left my studies for the last two years for the sake of the revolution, and then you come and say that I am a Shabih [pro-Assad militiaman]'. He started flogging me with the scourge while saying: 'We don't recognize anything called revolution. This is a revolution by kafirs [non-believers]. We are here to set up an Islamic state."
The Amnesty report requests that ISIS leadership condemn such practices and allow international observers to visit their detention centers and prisons.
Al-Tamimi said this is well intentioned but naïve.
"The recommendations at the end are unrealistic," he said. "Why would ISIS listen to suggestions from an organization of people it considers infidels?"