Muslim’s release sparks diplomatic row between Prague and Ankara

Saleh Muslim's supporters, Prague, February 27, 2018, photo: CTK

A Czech court on Tuesday ordered the release of Syrian Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim, sparking a diplomatic row with Ankara which considers him a member of a terrorist organization and is seeking his extradition to Turkey. The former head of PYD, the leading political force in Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria, is now free to leave the country.

Saleh Muslim's supporters,  Prague,  February 27,  2018,  photo: CTK
Groups of angry Kurdish nationals surrounded the Prague Municipal Court as Saleh Muslim was led in for the hearing that would decide on his detention pending an extradition request. Less than an hour later his lawyer emerged to announce that the Syrian Kurdish leader had been released.

Marketa Puci, a spokeswoman for the court said that Saleh Muslim had assured the court that he would not leave the territory of the European Union and would cooperate in further court proceedings.

News of the court’s decision elicited an immediate angry response from Turkey which accused the Czech Republic of supporting terrorism. Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the decision would not be without consequences.

“The decision is in violation of international laws and the European Convention on Extraditions. It is obvious support for a terrorist organization and will negatively impact Czech-Turkish relations.”

The Czech Foreign Ministry rejected the accusations saying that as any other extradition request this was being handled in line with international law. Irena Valentova is a spokeswoman for the ministry.

“The Czech Republic strongly rejects any accusations of support of international terrorism. Through the decision of the city court in Prague the Czech Republic has not breached any of its obligations under international law, including those of the European Convention on Extradition. The extradition proceedings have not been concluded by this court decision.”

Saleh Muslim,  photo: CTK
The case will now continue to run its course. Turkey has 40 days in which to provide all related documents to an extradition request. These will be assessed by a court and if it rules in favour of extradition the final decision will rest with the Czech justice minister who would need to sign an extradition order.

Saleh Muslim was detained by the police last Sunday on an Interpol arrest warrant issued at Turkey’s request, where he is charged with “disrupting the state”. Muslim told the court the allegations against him were false and expressed surprise that they were being taken seriously, since he had previously travelled to Belgium, Germany and France without any problems. He said he had not decided where to go yet, but had permission to reside in Finland.