TURKEY: Trial of Syriac monk Aho accused of having given food and water to PKK members to continue in January

MERDO (MARDIN) / TUR ABDIN, southeast Turkey – The trial of Syriac Orthodox monk Sefer (Aho) Bileçen of the Mor Yahqup d-Qarne Monastery is postponed to January 27, 2021. Monk Aho was arrested on January 9, 2020, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” but released on parole also after much public pressure. He is charged with having given food and water to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is designated a terrorist organization in Turkey.

The indictment against monk Aho, civil name Sefer Bileçen, was accepted by the Fourth High Criminal Court of Merdo (Mardin) on January 20. The indictment states that the charges are based on drone reconnaissance which detected six members of the so-called HPG or PKK’s military wing, the People’s Defence Forces, in the rural district of Dibek, Nusaybin district, on September 28, 2018. The indictment says that the HPG members hid in the monastery until September 30, 2018. One year after the incident, a HPG member who surrendered to Turkish authorities on September 27, 2019, testified that monk Aho had given them provisions.

In his testimony the Syriac monk does not deny having given food and water but that he did not know that the people were members of the HPG organization. The indictment also states that monk Aho asked the HPG members to leave the monastery after he realized that they were members of the organization.

Monk Aho on the roof of the Mor Jacob monastery

After his arrest and a after a meeting with members of the Urfa Bar Association and Human Rights Commission, monk Aho shared the following message through his lawyers:

“In 2018, 2 organization members came to the monastery. They asked me for food which I gave them. This incident was later determined and the Commander of the Metropolitan Gendarme at the time met with me. I did not deny the incident. I asked for security measures to prevent the incident from happening again, but no security measures were taken.”

“I thought the matter was closed after my testimony was recorded. I will give food and water to anyone who comes to my door. I have to give it out of my religious and philosophical beliefs. I cannot lie because I am a monk-priest. I gave food not to help any organization, but out of my beliefs. From a religious and philosophical perspective, I cannot report it. I can’t leave the monastery anyway. ”

The Prosecutor’s Office evaluated monk Aho’s actions as follows that; “… despite seeing the members of the organization at the monastery, the suspect did not make any appeal or gave notification. The suspects’ defense was aimed at getting rid of the crime, and it can be understood that the suspect carried out the criminal actions knowing that it benefited the aforementioned organization and its members.”

To be continued on January 27, 2021…