Assyrian Christian priest sentenced to two years in prison in Turkey

Father Aho(Photo: CSW)

A priest in Turkey has received a two-year prison sentence for supposedly providing food and water to a terrorist organisation.

Assyrian Christian priest Father Sefer Bileçen, known as Father Aho, is the caretaker of the 1,500-year-old Mor Yakub Monastery in Mardin province, southeast Turkey.

He was arrested with two others in January in the Assyrian town of Üçköy (Arkash in Syriac language) after being accused of providing food and water to members of the People's Defence Forces (HPG).

HPG is the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and has been designated a 'terrorist organisation' in Turkey.

But Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) fears that there are ulterior motives behind the priest's imprisonment as the Turkish government continues to propogate the view that being Turkish means to be a Sunni Muslim. 

A human rights activist from the Syriac community in Turkey told CSW: "The Turkish authorities have been making every effort to erase the Christian heritage of Turkey; they have created a hostile environment, making it extremely difficult for the very small Christian community in Turkey to survive. They are suffocating us."

CSW's founder President Mervyn Thomas said he was "deeply disappointed" by the court ruling and that the priest's imprisonment "sends yet another negative message to Turkey's religious minorities."

"We call for an urgent review of the charges levelled against Father Aho, and for his lawyer to be allowed unhindered access to all documents and testimonies related to his case in order to facilitate due process," he said.

"We also call on the international community to press the Turkish government to end all forms of discrimination against religious minorities, and to uphold its constitutional obligations to protect and respect the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious affiliation or ethnic background."