Syrian regime arrests dozens of football fans at World Cup screening venues in forced conscription operation

Syrian regime arrests dozens of football fans at World Cup screening venues in forced conscription operation
The Syrian regime has targeted venues screening the Qatar 2022 World Cup to forcibly draft men into military service, detaining dozens
2 min read
30 November, 2022
Due to the detentions there has been a decrease in the number of fans who go out to watch matches [Getty]

The Syrian regime has arrested dozens of young men after storming into venues in Damascus screening the Qatar 2022 World Cup, according to local media.

Security forces have targeted people gathering in popular cafes, restaurants and viewing areas to forcibly conscript eligible men into the army, Syrian opposition outlet Voice of the Capital reported.

The regime appears to consider the global event as a suitable opportunity to pursue men avoiding military service – who would otherwise keep a low profile for fear of being caught.

"Today we sit watching the World Cup matches, one eye on the screen and the other eye on the door of the café, for fear of security forces entering,"  a resident from the Al-Midan neighbourhood told the Voice of the Capital.

Recruits into the regime's army have previously been sent to the front lines to fight against Syrian opposition forces.

The residnt explained that watching the matches at home is "impossible" due to the high cost of subscribing to the necessary channels and because of regular electricity blackouts.

Due to the detention campaigns, there has been a decrease in the number of fans who go out to watch the matches, the fan said.

On 20 November, the first day of the World Cup, there were over 30 detentions in the Damascus neighbourhoods of Al-Salihiya, Al-Shaalan, and Al-Hamra.

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In the Damascus suburb of Babila, 35 detentions were recorded on 22 November, during the match between Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Military forces also set up temporary barriers and checkpoints on a road connecting Babila and Beit Sahem – where many venues are located – and stopped and searched over 200 people.

The young men were reportedly required to show identification and verify their status with regards to the completion of the compulsory military service.

During this operation, regime forces arrested 23 men- from both Babila and Beit Sahem - as well as 12 others from the neighbouring town of Yalda, most of whom had not completed their military service.

The Syrian conflict began when President Bashar al-Assad's regime brutally suppressed Arab Spring-inspired peaceful protests in 2011.

Since the conflict began, over 500,000 lives have been lost - mostly at the hands of the regime and its ally Russia. Millions of Syrians have fled the country or been internally displaced, largely as a result of heavy shelling and bombardment.

Fear of forced conscription has also been a major factor in the decision of many young men to leave their homes and the country.