Turkish prosecutors announced the indictment Fr Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, of Mor Jakup (Saint Jacob’s) monastery in Nusaybin, a city in south-eastern Turkey, on terrorism charges, Asia News reports.
The Assyrian clergyman and other Christians were detained on 9 January. The priest gave some food (bread and water) to a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) whose leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in prison since 1999.
The priest and the other Christians were arrested in a Kurdish majority area, scene of violent clashes with Turkish forces, based on anonymous information. After a few days in custody, he was released without a formal charge; however, he was indicted on 16 January but the information was withheld until 8 February.
The case is based on informant’s testimony and a 2018 police report claiming that people connected to extremist groups had visited the clergyman’s monastery.
During the four days of detention in January, Fr Bileçen was repeatedly questioned by the security forces. If he is found guilty, he could get from seven and a half to 15 years in prison.
The charge sheet includes the accusation that the Assyrian priest failed to report the militants to law enforcement even though he knew their identity. The priest has not denied offering food and water, but insisted that he did so in accordance with his faith, not out of political or ideological considerations.
The area in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east has been the scene of armed clashes between Turkish forces and pro-independence PKK fighters for decades.
Reacting to the case, Assyrian Policy Institute (API) chairman Jon Koriel said: “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.”
Meanwhile, the fate of Hurmüz Diril and his wife Şimoni Diril, an elderly Christian couple abducted on 11 January from their native village of Meer, remains shrouded in mystery.
One of their children, a Chaldean priest based in Istanbul, is still asking for prayers despite the ominous lack of information about what happened to them.