ASIA/TURKEY - Syrian Orthodox monk condemned as "supporter of terrorists" for giving water and food to PKK militiamen

Thursday, 8 April 2021 middle east   oriental churches   justice   monasticism   terrorism

Mardin (Agenzia Fides) - The Mardin Criminal Court has handed down a 25-month prison sentence against the Syrian Orthodox monk Sefer Bileçen, finding him guilty of complicity with terrorist organizations and activities. The priest, a member of the Mor Yakup monastery in Nusaybin (formerly Nisibi, now part of the Turkish province of Mardin), had been arrested on January 9, 2020 along with two other people, accused of having offered help and cover to members of the People's Defense Forces (HPG), the military arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), classified as a terrorist organization by the Ankara government.
The accusation, based mainly on images collected by drones used by the Turkish intelligence services to monitor the life of the monastery from above, attributes to the monk the responsibility of receiving HPG militiamen in the monastery for a few days at the end of September of 2018. On January 16, 2020, the monk had been authorized to leave prison pending trial, with the obligation not to leave his residence.
During the trial, as reported by Agenzia Fides, several testimonies had confirmed that the alleged "complicity" contested by the Turkish authorities to the Syrian Orthodox monk consisted in simply offering food and drink to people who said they were hungry and thirsty. An HPG militiaman arrested in September 2019 by Turkish security forces had also confessed to having visited the Mor Yakup Monastery several times just to eat, drink and refresh. The monk Sefer Bileçen himself, in the testimony made public through his lawyers, confirmed that he had given food and water to the militiamen as a pure sign of monastic hospitality, reserved for anyone in need, without imagining that the people welcomed were members of HPG. "I will give food and water to anyone who comes to my door", Father Sefer had said during his statement. "I have to do it" he added "because of my spiritual and philosophical beliefs. And I cannot lie, because I am a monk and a priest". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 8/4/2021)