European Syriac Union: Conviction of Syriac Orthodox monk Aho by Turkish court is violation of human rights and undermines democracy

BRUSSELS — The European Syriac Union (ESU) issued a statement denouncing the sentencing of Syriac Orthodox monk Sefer (Aho) Bileçen of the Mor Yahqup d-Qarne Monastery to two years and one month in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization”.

Monk Aho was arrested on 9 January 2020 but released on parole also after public pressure. He was charged with having given food and water to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is designated a terrorist organization in Turkey. 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 PKK organization.

Monk Aho released the following statement through his lawyers at the time of his initial arrest:

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 ESU considers the arrest, trying, and conviction of monk Aho to be a flagrant violation of human rights that undermines the foundation of democracy.

“This decision concerning monk Aho is a blow to democratic principles, human rights, and the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups,” reads the statement.

The ESU statement demanded that Turkish authorities drop all charges against monk Aho and called on human rights organizations and the international community to support monk Aho and secure his release.

“The decision of the court is a disappointment for Syriacs and they will react to this unjust decision,” read the statement.