The Assyrian priest Sefer (Aho) Bileçen – who leads Mor Yacoub Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Mardin province of Turkey – has been sentenced to two years and one month imprisonment on the allegation of “being a member of an organisation”.
The 4th hearing of his trial was held in Mardin’s 4th High Criminal Court. He had been arrested on 10 January 2020 in Nusaybin district of Mardin and had been released on 14 January. However, two days later, he had been indicted for “membership of a terrorist organisation”.
At the hearing that was attended by Bileçen’s lawyer (but not Bileçen himself), the prosecutor reiterated his opinion that he face punishment, claiming that he “helped the organisation”. Bileçen was reportedly accused of providing food and water to members of the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2018.
After his arrest, he met with the members of the Urfa Bar Association Human Rights Commission and made the following statement through his lawyers:
“In 2018, two members of the organisation came to the monastery. They asked me to give them some food and I gave them some food. Later, this was determined. Thereupon, the Gendarmerie Commander spoke with the Metropolitan of that area and they organised a meeting with me. I did not deny what I did. I asked them to take necessary security measures to prevent the incident from happening again, but they did not do anything. I thought the subject was closed after that. Whoever comes to my door, I will give them food. I have to do it because my religion and philosophy commands me to do so. Since I am a priest, I cannot lie either. I do this out of my belief, not out of ‘help’ to any ‘organisation'”.
According to the Assyrian Policy Institute (API), Tur Abdin is a historic Assyrian region located in southeast Turkey and is currently home to approximately 3,000 Assyrians belonging to various church denominations, including the Syriac Orthodox Church.
“Large numbers of Assyrians have been forced to emigrate as a result of the conflict between Turkey and the PKK since the 1980’s, and the actions of Turkish authorities have created an intimidating atmosphere for those Assyrians who remain”, the API stated.
API’s chairperson Jon Koriel urged Turkey to drop all charges against the priest: “We are deeply concerned by the unjustified accusations made against Father Aho, and the damaging message his indictment sends to the rest of the Assyrian community in Turkey. We call on Turkish authorities to drop all charges against him without precondition”.