Assyrian priest in Turkey given jail sentence on terror charges

A Turkish court on Wednesday handed down a 25-month prison sentence to an Assyrian priest in southeastern Turkey on charges of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish Minute reported, citing the Mezopotamya news agency.

The Assyrian priest, Sefer (Aho) Bileçen from the Mor Yakup Church, also known as the Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, was arrested and released pending trial in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province in January 2020.

The prison sentence was handed down to Bileçen by the Mardin 4th High Criminal Court.

The indictment included accusations based on an informant’s testimony and a 2018 gendarmerie report claiming that Bileçen’s monastery was visited by alleged members of terrorist groups.

During his four days under arrest in January 2020, Bileçen had been questioned with regard to the allegations.

While he has not denied claims that he offered food to the militants, he insisted that he only did it as a requirement of his faith, not by any motivation to aid the group.

The indictment, on the other hand, pointed out that the priest did not report the militants to law enforcement, claiming that his statement makes it clear he was aware of the visitors’ identity.

Bileçen’s monastery is located in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, which for decades has been the scene of armed clashes between security forces and the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

The Assyrians are an autochthonous Christian group who were the victims of massacres and forced displacement at the beginning of the 20th century in what is today recognized by many as genocide. This, and ongoing discrimination decades later drove many thousands to seek safety abroad.

As a result, there are only around 25,000 Assyrians left in Turkey.

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