ISIS goes on a tax-and-fine spree
Damascus - The Islamic State (ISIS) is collecting more money from people living in and transiting its territory in the form of new fines in lieu of corporal punishment and other measures.
Falling oil prices and attacks on oil facilities by the international coalition and Russian warplanes have choked off a key source of ISIS income. Hundreds of ISIS tanker trucks have been destroyed in eastern Syria.
ISIS had to come up with alternate sources of revenue and, like traditional governments, turned to taxation. New taxes were introduced and corporal punishments were replaced with fines to plug the gaping deficit in a budget weakened by war on several fronts.
ISIS recently issued a long list of new taxes to be paid to Beit al- Zakat — religious tax house. It detailed misdemeanours and fines.
Possession of cigarettes results in a fine of 2,500 Syrian pounds ($6) for males and 5,000 pounds ($12) for females; wearing tight veils and unorthodox clothes is fined 5,000 pounds ($12); showing the eyes, 1,000 pounds ($2.50); failing to wear gloves and socks, 1,000 pounds ($2.50); and shaving the beard: 2,500 pounds ($6).
“They started levying taxes on the inhabitants of Raqqa (ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria) and the cities and villages under their control last November. Militants would roam the city in search of any offence so that they could impose a cash fine,” said a taxi driver from Raqqa who identified himself as Mohamed Ali.
“But when they saw that citizens were actually strictly observing their rules, either out of fear or simply to avoid their nastiness, they decided to levy a tax on every motor vehicle operating in the area. The size of the tax is linked to the size of the vehicle. They have thus become our partners in our livelihoods.”
Hussein al-Jaysh, an engineer who worked on a farm near Raqqa, said ISIS imposed a series of new taxes at the end of last year. “They did not stop at taking 10% of the harvest as Zakat but levied two more taxes with a combined value of 20,000 pounds ($50) per hectare, which they said it was the price of irrigation services and lease on the land since the farms were on state land.
“Consequently, many farmers stopped planting and now more than half of the arable land is not in use,” he said, adding that the militants taxed livestock trading, “levying 2,500 pounds ($6), on the sale of each sheep or goat.”
Taxation under ISIS often exceeds 10% of the value of the goods, grown, manufactured or traded. The group pockets revenues from electricity, telephone, water and sanitation bills. These services are often absent or interrupted most of the time.
At the end of 2015, ISIS issued a tax on inheritance of 20-40% of the total value. When the inheritance is in the form of fixed assets, such as real estate, the heirs have to pay the portion represented by the tax on inheritance. People no longer declared deaths and buried their dead in secret.
Electricity prices also increased. ISIS charges for electricity consumption by relying on electricity metres but it has imposed an additional monthly tax of $5-$10 per family.
Siham al-Zain moved last October from Raqqa to the city of Hama. She said ISIS fined her $25 because she was travelling to “the land of apostasy”. “They also gave each traveller a grace period of seven days to come back to Raqqa, otherwise they would confiscate his home, donate it to its fighters or lease it,” Zain said.
Activists in Raqqa say the group has allowed traders to ship wheat, barley, cotton and other agricultural products from Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Hasakah and Aleppo provinces to Damascus and Tartus in exchange for 25% of the shipment.
Often, the trader has to buy this portion from ISIS and pay in cash. Food trucks transiting ISIS territory pay a fee of up to $1,000, depending on the truckload.
In December, ISIS slashed the salaries of its fighters and administrators by half, amounts that ranged from $400-$2,500.
Before oil trucks and wells in Deir ez-Zor were bombed, ISIS revenues came from selling more than 250,000 barrels of oil a day.
Drying up its oil resources has been part of the war waged against the group but that has left local residents to foot the bill while remaining virtual prisoners in their own homes.