Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has stepped up efforts to prevent Syrians in territory under its control from voting in Thursday’s presidential election, activists said on Saturday, as the Syrian government continued its own preparations for the vote.
Although Thursday’s poll has been widely dismissed abroad and by the Syrian opposition as a sham, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that ISIS has been stepping up security in its stronghold of Raqqa as the date of the election approaches.
The Observatory, a UK-based monitoring group, said activists had observed ISIS “setting up roadblocks and checkpoints” around the city in order to “[stop] residents from participating in the election farce in other cities.”
Activists said they expected the Syrian government to open election centers in the Arab areas of Hasakah governorate—also home to members of Syria’s minorities, including Kurds—and areas under its control in Deir Ezzor and Aleppo governorates.
An activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS has issued a fatwa prohibiting the participation in “the Syrian presidential election farce,” and threatened to punish residents under its authority in northern and eastern Syria if they took part in the poll.
ISIS seized control of Raqqa in eastern Syria last autumn, as well as large parts of the surrounding governorate. The group also controls large areas of Deir Ezzor governorate and four major towns in Aleppo’s suburbs, most prominently Al-Bab and Manbaj.
The election—widely seen as an attempt to bolster the legitimacy of Syria’s beleaguered President Bashar Al-Assad—will only be held in areas that are under the control of Syrian government forces, especially in Aleppo’s suburbs, Idlib, and Hama in the north, and the Rif Dimashq area and Dera’a in the south.
According to Syria’s state news agency SANA, the Syrian government has begun implementing the administrative procedures for the election. The head of the elections subcommittee in Damascus, Maysaa Al-Mahrous, told the news agency that voting will take place in 1,563 centers in the capital, distributed across various government ministries and institutions, as well as some suburbs.