Turkey releases Syriac priest arrested for sharing food with PKK

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Turkey on Tuesday released a Syriac priest days after his arrest for sharing food with a member of an outlawed Kurdish group, Euronews Turkish reported.

Priest Sefer Bileçen was arrested on January 9 along with two other Christians in the country’s southeast following an anonymous tip that they had shared food with a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for autonomy for over 30 years.

Syriac journalist and community leader in Belgium David Vergili announced the release of Bileçen, also known as Aho, on Twitter.

The other two Christians arrested are village headmen from the region, Washington-based NGO International Christian Concern (ICC) said citing local media. 

The arrest of the Syriac priest is “a second case of Pastor Brunson,” the head of the Assyrian Associations Foundation said, referring to American cleric Andrew Brunson who spent 21 months in a Turkish prison on charges related to the failed coup attempt in 2016 and was released in 2018 following U.S. pressure.

The European Syrian Union on Monday called for the release of Bileçen, also known as Monk Aho.

Since 1984, the PKK has been leading an armed insurgency against Turkey’s security forces, mainly in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast. The fighting has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people, mostly Kurds. 

Assyrian Christians, one of the oldest communities in their region, have been strongly affected by the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish insurgents.