Syrian intelligence authorities have released some 40 children who were arrested in the Homs governorate last week, after negotiations between parents and Al-Rastan’s reconciliation committee.
The Air Intelligence Division stipulated a fee for the release of the 56 children, ranging between 100,000 and 500,000 Syrian pounds ($190-$970), local sources told reporters. Whilst most of the families managed to arrange the payment, some 10 to 15 children are believed to be still in custody.
The minors, aged between 13 and 16, were detained by intelligence services in raids on their homes and schools in the town of Al-Rastan last week with their location withheld from their families for several days.
They were reportedly detained on suspicion of writing pro-revolutionary graffiti near a school; the arrest campaign also came after leaflets were found near a local mosque expressing support for the opposition group Ahrar Al-Shaam among other factions.
According to Syrian news agency Zaman Al-Wasl, local sources confirmed that the children were tortured, beaten and threatened with greater punishment if the incident was repeated.
The latest detentions prompted fear of further reprisals against local residents, amid news that three young men from Al-Rastan, previously detained by the government, died in prison as a result of torture.
Homs was recaptured by the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad with the aid of ally Russia last May, after coming to a reconciliation agreement with opposition fighters, most of whom relocated to the north of the country.
Yet despite violating the terms of the negotiation deal, hundreds of residents who remained in the province have found themselves arbitrarily detained, often as a means of intimidating any ongoing resistance against government control.
Even those who were not involved in the fighting have been targeted; last year 11 members of the White Helmets civil defence unit were detained in Al-Rastan on charges of supporting illegal activities.
Activists have noted that the retaliation by the Syrian government against former supporters of the revolution is reminiscent of the action taken by the regime in the earliest days of the Arab Spring; in 2011, the arrest of 15 children in Daraa, and the subsequent torture and murder of one of them, 13-year-old Hamza Al-Khateeb, was the initial spark of nationwide protests.
The war in Syria, now approaching its ninth year, has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces.