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Turkey

Assyrian Christian priest indicted on terrorism charges

10 Feb 2020

Assyrian Christian Priest, Father Sefer Bileçen (known as Father Aho), has been charged with joining a terrorist organisation. Father Aho was indicted on 16 January; however, the authorities withheld the information until 8 February.

Father Aho was arrested along with two others on Thursday 9 January in the province of Mardin in Southeast Turkey. He was reportedly accused of providing food and water to members of the People's Defence Forces (HPG), the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been designated a ‘terrorist organisation’ by Turkey. His next hearing is scheduled to take place on 19 March.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is deeply concerned by the unfounded accusations made against Father Aho. We call on the Turkish authorities to drop the case immediately and without precondition.”

There are ongoing concerns about the whereabouts of an elderly Assyrian Christian couple, Hurmuz and Şimoni Diril, who have been missing since 11 January 2020. The couple is from Mehre (Kovankaya) village in Beytüşşebap District in Şırnak Province in south-eastern Turkey. Their son, Father Remzi Diril, is the priest of the Chaldean Church in Istanbul.

CSW sources report that the couple had received several threats in the past from Turkish and Kurdish residents. On 16 January the prosecutor’s office investigating the incident imposed a confidentiality order on the case. Many Assyrian activists believe that the abductors’ aim is to scare the remaining Christians and force them to leave their ancestral land. 

Mr Thomas continued: “We are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of Mr and Mrs Diril and call for a full investigation into their case. We urge the international community to raise these cases with the Turkish government in bilateral talks, and to recognise the role played by many religious leaders, not only as leaders of their communities, but also as human rights defenders.”

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