Assyrian priest released pending trial

A Turkish court on Jan. 14 released Assyrian priest Sefer Bileçen on judicial control, four days after his arrest on charges of "aiding and abetting" the outlawed PKK. Bileçen is said to be the only caretaker of the Mor Yakup Monastery in Turkey's southeastern province of Mardin.

Duvar English

A Turkish court on Jan. 14 released an Assyrian priest from jail pending the outcome of his trial for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Priest Sefer (Aho) Bileçen of the Saint Jacob Church (also known as Mor Yakup Church), a historical church in Turkey's southeastern province of Mardin’s Nusaybin district, was arrested on Jan. 10.

Mezopotamya news agency later reported that Bileçen's arrest came in response to testimony provided by a PKK member who said that Bileçen gave bread and water to PKK members when they visited the church in 2018.

On Jan. 13, a group of lawyers from the Urfa Bar Association visited Bileçen in the Mardin E Type Closed Prison. One of the lawyers named Mustafa Vefa later told the agency that Bileçen had said he has to comply when somebody asks for help, as his religion requires.

"I give food to whoever comes to my door. I need to do so as per my religion and philosophy. And since I am a priest, I cannot lie. I am not doing this in the name of helping an organization, but instead as per my belief. Philosophically, I cannot also denounce someone. This is also the case in terms of religion. I do not step outside the monastery anway," Bileçen was quoted as saying by Vefa.

A day after the lawyers' visit, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Tuma Çelik announced on his Twitter that Bileçen was released following the appeal made at the court.

Bileçen and three other Assyrians were initially detained during a raid by military forces on Jan. 9. After giving their statements to the Mardin provincial gendarmerie command, the four detainees were referred to the courthouse.

The court on Jan. 10 ruled for the release of Musa Taştekin, Haşo Dinç and Mehmet Başak on judicial control, whereas ordered the arrest of Priest Bileçen on terror charges.