ASIA/TURKEY - Syriac Orthodox monk Sefer Bileçen indicted as "terrorist supporter"

Thursday, 13 February 2020 middle east   oriental churches   kurds   terrorism   religious minorities  


Mardin (Agenzia Fides) - The Turkish authorities have formally charged Syriac Orthodox monk Sefer Bileçen for complicity with terrorist organizations and activities. The monk was arrested last January 9 by Turkish security forces on charges of offering help and coverage to PKK militants, the Kurdish worker party, which is banned and labeled a terrorist organization by the Turkish government and army (see Fides 16/1/2020).
The indictment of the monk, made known by the Turkish authorities only on Saturday 8 February, had in fact already been formalized on 16 January last, when the religious had been allowed to leave prison with the obligation not to leave his residence.
Jon Koriel, president of the Assyrian Policy Institute (organization committed to defending the rights of Syriac communities), said: "We are deeply concerned by the unjustified accusations made against Father Sefer, and the damaging message his indictment sends to the rest of the Syriac community in Turkey. We call on Turkish authorities to drop all charges against him without precondition".
The groups that monitor the condition of the Christian communities in Turkey in recent years have seen an increasing number of arrests suffered by members of those communities on charges of connivance with the PKK.
Father Sefer Bileçen, priest of the Mor Yakup Monastery in Nusaybin (ancient Nisibi, currently included in the Turkish province of Mardin), after his arrest had been brought before a judge of the local court on charges of flanking against "a terrorist organization". For him, the prison doors were immediately opened.
In the days following the arrest, Turkish media reported that investigations regarding the monk had started in September 2018, when cameras mounted on two drones of the Turkish security services had filmed two PKK militants entering the monastery of Mor Yakup. Since then, the monastery and in particular Sefer had been placed under surveillance by intelligence services. In September 2019, a PKK militant arrested by Turkish security forces had confessed to having visited Mor Yakup monastery several times to eat and drink. Other testimonies reported in the Turkish media also confirm that the alleged "complicity" contested by the Turkish authorities to the Syriac Orthodox monk was limited to the simple offering of food and drinks to people who said they were hungry and thirsty. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 13/2/2020)