Syriac organizations in Europe have demanded that the Turkish government release and drop all charges against priest Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, who was handed down a 25-month prison sentence on charges of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by a court in southeastern Turkey.
The Syriac Christian priest, 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.
“His offence was to have handed ‘bread and water’ on request to two unknown persons in the hot summer of 2018. … [Bileçen] only acted according to his values and gave bread and water to those who asked for it,” said a letter signed by organizations in Europe.
The indictment against Bileçen 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.