Photo of Syrians in chains highlights regime forced conscription
A photo showing a group of chained young Syrian men being herded into an army van has sparked controversy, highlighting the sickening reality for those forced into military conscription.
The image, believed to be taken in Damascus, shows a long line of men being shackled via a single chain as members of the military lead them into the back of a caged vehicle, where they face an uncertain fate.
Activists said that the image epitomises the state of Syria, where the Syrian regime have won a Pyrrhic victory, after Bashar al-Assad’s forces captured much of Syria from the opposition but at the cost of destroying much of the country.
"A brave person took this photo from central Damascus. It shows chained young men being watched by a regime soldier," the Syria Campaign tweeted.
"The photo has gone viral among Syrians with many saying the men were being forcibly conscripted into the army. Is this the safety Assad promises the Syrian people?"
The war has nearly been won by Assad due to the regime's reliance on foreign fighters and international allies, while the opposition is made up almost entirely of Syrians.
Syria's conventional military has been seriously depleted since the outbreak of fighting in 2011, following mass defections from the army and millions of Syrians who have fled the country to avoid the war, bombing and conscription.
Men aged 18 to 42 are by law forced to serve in the military and with so few recruits available, the regime has relied on local militias and foreign fighters to plug the gaps.
But Damascus has continued to round up - or hunt down - potential recruits and forced them to join the military, where they serve on front lines in miserable conditions and often used as cannon fodder in battles against rebels.
Pro-regime social media profiles shared the same image on Tuesday, showing the men not chained but walking into the van willingly.
The Syrian investigative site www.verify-sy.com responded by saying the imaged shared by Assad loyalists was doctored to remove the chains, showing edited pictures as evidence.
Millions of Syrian men still live abroad, where they fear forced conscription or worse if they return home.
The regime has announced conscription campaigns and nabbed young Syrians on the streets, and tried to humiliate them into serving on the army.
But the image of the young, miserable Syrians being treated as prisoners of war rather than citizens has been described as emblematic of the country's continued stumbling into the abyss.