Meet Ben Allinson-Davies, the British student interrogated for his support of the Free Syrian Army

This is Ben, he’s a student and he’s embroiled in the Syrian conflict


It is probably fair to say that Ben Allinson-Davies isn’t your typical 19-year-old university student. He started supporting the Free Syrian Army and working for Radio Free Syria in 2012. He then went out to Syria in August 2013 to film a documentary about the revolution.

It started out with blogging from the comfort of his sofa, which he says “bumped me into the activist community”. His involvement in Syria grew from there: “Suddenly I found myself friends with people who were friends with people who were friends with people, you know. I got to know Syrians themselves”.

He is the youngest British member of RFS that he is aware of and said “no other university aged students come immediately to mind”.

Ben’s Facebook is the same as any typical uni student

In August last year, Ben went out to Syria to shoot a documentary. He decided not to tell his family, saying: “They knew I was going to Turkey, which I was whilst preparing, but they didn’t know I’d actually go any further.”

He didn’t want to worry them so he “tried to keep as much back from them as possible”. Of his time in Syria he said he “met so many friends… but it was absolutely horrific over there. While it’s such a beautiful country, it’s an absolute mess”.

He raised around £170 for the documentary which went largely on equipment and “is quite minimal compared to what others have raised.” The rest was personal funding.

Ben says his family were concerned about him visiting Syria: “It really worried them I think. They only really found out once I’d started working there. They knew I’d be in the area, along the border but kind of, as plans developed, I kind of ended up going there, which was partly due to circumstance. I wanted to show the world as much as possible”.

He flew into Antalya, Turkey, and got a bus about 600 miles or so from there. He says it was “incredibly cheap”. He stayed with a friend in Mersin, three days later carried through Antakya and phoned a friend and “just got into Syria”.

Ben remained out of the active conflict zones. “I thought if someone shot me then bang goes my message and all my work would be forgotten and I couldn’t risk that”. He avoided the government-controlled zones as he said he “would have been shot by snipers” so he had to keep at least a mile away.

At one point he was near the frontline. “I could see Assad’s soldiers positioned in villages and hear rockets – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing”.

He stayed with active members of the Free Syrian Army. “One of my friends is a Colonel in charge of his own brigade. He put me up for a few days because I’m friends with his son and he’s a lovely guy”.

Ben’s view is that there are a lot of misconceptions, “A lot of people are very ill informed which I don’t feel is their fault, I think it’s the media deliberately distorting information”.

He believes that if people were aware of what’s going on, they would be doing similar things. “I look around sometimes and feel a bit disappointed that people don’t seem to care”.

He thinks that many students are more concerned “with skin deep things, like PS3 games and playing around with their hair instead of doing meaningful things”. He says he wishes people were more free to do things they believe in “without being ostracised by other people or accused of being involved in terrorism, which unfortunately happens to a lot of people”.

Following his trip, Ben was questioned under Section 16 of the Counter-Terrorism Act. He says: “I told very few people what my trip was about, but someone for some reason, someone – and I don’t know why, they must be stupid – reported me to the authorities for going.”

“After I left, I basically had intelligence agents asking my family questions, where I was and what I was doing, to tell me to come home, saying they were on the lookout for me. I thought, what the hell, what am I doing wrong?”

They asked me why one of my friends carried a gun. I felt like saying: Are you kidding me? He’s only got a genocidal army out to get him…”

He was questioned at the airport on September 1st, and they went to his house a few days later to check that he was home. When booking a holiday to Dubai, he received a call asking his reasons for travel: “They were obviously interested in the fact I was leaving the country again”. In future, he says he’d probably not pay for flights and things by credit card because it “just induces snooping”.

“I think it’s because my flight transferred in Turkey so they thought I was going there again. They explained that they were worried that people would come back with silly ideas in their heads”.

Ben has started learning Arabic. “It helps a lot. A small part of it is personal interest. It’s a very vibrant language. It’s also pragmatic because it helps if you know the language, as I didn’t know very much beforehand”.

Ben was formerly Christian but now says “if I had to identify myself as a religion I think it would be Islam, but I more believe in democracy and freedom. I don’t do what I do because of religious reasons”.

There are Muslim rules against drinking, but Ben says, “I do things maybe I shouldn’t, I drink every now and then but I think God wouldn’t mind with all the good I’m doing. I’m not the best Muslim I could be”.

Ben has received threats as a result of his activity

Ben’s Facebook activity is quite strongly centred around images from Syria, quite an unconventional profile for a 19 year-old student.

“I like to share images to show people that they’re posting about irrelevant things – I get mad at people for posting a thousand images of their food every day. While you’re taking photos of your food, although I’m sure it’s very delicious ice cream, people are being killed.”

Ben doesn’t consider himself a “classic” student. “I dress quite differently. I’m as eccentric as they come, I like my strange hats.”

Although Ben does not think he will make a career out of his activism, he says: “Syria will take a long time to rebuild. I’d like to go out again but I’m not sure really. I will focus on the rebuilding of Syria once Assad has been done away with”.

You can watch the documentary that Ben filmed in Syria: ‘Stories From Idlib: A Revolution Ignored’, and you can read Ben’s blog here.

This article was originally published on The Tab Newcastle.