Turkey prosecutors indict Assyrian priest for terror group membership

Turkish prosecutors indict Father Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, the priest of the Saint Jacob’s church in the city of Nusaybin in southeastern Turkey, for membership of a terrorist organisation, Gazete Karınca said on Tuesday.

Turkish gendarme forces on Jan. 9 detained Bileçen and nine other members of the Assyrian community, and the priest was arrested two days later on charges of aiding and abetting terrorists.

The reason for Bileçen’s arrest was testimony by a member of People's Defence Forces (HPG), the armed wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who said Bileçen provided HPG members with bread and water when they would go to the monastery, Gazete Karınca said.

Membership of a terror organisation carries a total sentence of from seven-and-a-half to 15 years in jail, according to Turkish laws.

During the 1990s, the height of Turkey’s conflict with the PKK when thousands of villages in the country’s southeast were evacuated, much of the remaining Assyrians were forced to abandon their villages.

When developments in recent years allowed the community’s return, Bileçen arrived at the church and undertook its restoration after spending decades in ruins. The monastery was opened again in 2013.