More than 200 Christians who were being held captive by Islamic State (ISIS) have been released but are being forced to live under a set of rules handed down by the terrorist group, Christian leaders said Friday.
ISIS captured the some 270 Christians in the Syrian town of Al-Qaryatain. They were returned to their homes only after agreeing to pay jizya (tax) and sign a dhimma (Sharia social contract) in order to remain in the town and not face death.
The kidnapped Christians are from the Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic denominations of Christianity.
Syrian-Orthodox Archbishop Jean Kawak, who resides in Damascus, confirmed the release of the Christians to Newsweek and said they are now being treated as “slaves” in the town, living as “third-class citizens.”
“The church knows everyone is alive and are back in their homes,” confirms Kawak. “We can also confirm the agreement, according to the Sharia law, that they are forcing a tax on our people, four golden dinars per person a year, about 17 grams of gold per adult.”
“They are also preventing our people from building churches and monasteries in and around the town,” the archbishop adds. “We are not supposed to pray in public and if we are praying in the house we can not let anyone hear.”
The rules imposed on the Christians have been supported by the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has an extensive network of contacts in Syria. The group received a copy of the social contract the Christians were forced to sign.
The dhimma shows that the orders came from ISIS’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and state that he “gives” the Christians a guarantee on their “money, souls, not to force them to change their religion and not to harm anyone of them.”
There was hope for a number of the Christians in the city, however, as 20 of those released were able to flee to the Syrian city of Homs, Habib Afram, president of the Syriac League in Lebanon, confirmed to Newsweek. Those who fled to Homs also confirmed the enforced jizya and dhimma.
“Twenty out of the 270 were able to flee and leave the village and this is what they told us,” he said after speaking about the rules the Christians had to live under. “They are in Homs and they spoke to the church.” The Christian leader added that “on a local level, there are some talks [with ISIS].”
The Christians who fled to Homs said those remaining in Al-Qaryatain are being held against their will, added Afram. “They are still in the town in their houses, but they are not allowed to leave.”
Also on Friday, ISIS released 15 elderly women, who arrived in the nearby village of Feyruz, according to Nuri Kino, the director and founder of the Middle Eastern advocacy group A Demand for Action. Details about how their release was secured have not been disclosed.
ISIS is an ultra-conservative Islamist group that considers ancient religious minorities, such as Syriac Catholics, Assyrians and Yazidis, to be kafir (disbelievers) and infidels.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled the Iraqi city of Mosul after ISIS’s offensive in June last year because similar rules were imposed on them. The group threatened to kill the Christians in the city unless they converted to Islam or paid the tax.