February 18, 2020 - 11:58 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Turkish authorities have arrested a Syriac Orthodox priest on terrorism charges after the cleric provided bread and water to members of an illegal Kurdish seperatist group, Catholic News Agency reports.
Fr. Sefer Bileçen of St. Jacob’s Monastery in Nusaybin was first detained along with other local Christians on January 9, before being released on January 14 without charge. He was then re-arrested and indicted on January 16, and accused of being a member of a terrorist group. Information about the indictment was released on February 8.
Fr. Bileçen was arrested after an informant testified that he provided bread and water to Kurdish separatists at the monastery in 2018, actions that the Turkish authorities have said constitute “helping and abetting” terrorists. According to a 2018 police report, members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) visited the monastery on several occasions.
The PKK is a group dedicated to the creation of an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. Decades of fighting between PKK separatists and Turkish forces have resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and the group is designated as a terrorist organization in the European Union, though not by the United Nations. The leader of the party has been in a Turkish prison since 1999.
In addition to the accusation of providing food and water to the PKK members, Bileçen is also accused of failing to report their identities to the authorities, even though he was aware they were members of the banned group.
Nusaybin, where the monastery is located, is predominantly Kurdish.
Bileçen does not deny providing food and water to the PKK members, but he told authorities that his actions had no political motivation and were not a demonstration of either support or sympathy for the PKK. The priest said offering food and water to those in need was a requirement of his Christian faith, and that he never left the monastery grounds.
Bileçen is due in court on March 19.
If convicted, the charges filed against Fr. Bileçen carry a minimum sentence of seven and a half years in prison.