Prague in diplomatic tug-of-war following arrest of former PYD leader Saleh Muslim

Saleh Muslim, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic has found itself in a diplomatic tug-of-war between Turkey and the main Syrian Kurdish political party PYD following the arrest of former PYD leader Saleh Muslim in Prague. Muslim was detained at the weekend on an Interpol warrant at Turkey’s behest. Turkey has requested his extradition, while the PYD has appealed for his release.

Saleh Muslim,  photo: CTK
The arrest of the 67-year-old former leader of PYD at a Prague hotel made international headlines over the weekend. Ankara considers the main Syrian Kurdish political party an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK and had put many of its members, including Saleh Muslim on its most wanted list of “terrorists”. Turkey lost no time filing an official request for his extradition and the country’s foreign minister wants to discuss the issue with his Czech counterpart. In Turkey Muslim is charged with “breaking the state and country’s unity” and other offences.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish political party PYD, the driving Kurdish political force in Northern Syria, has expressed outrage at the detention of a man whom it said had played an active role in fighting IS in Syria. PYD said Muslim was a key figure in the search for a political solution in Syria and appealed for his release, describing his arrest as “immoral”. The PYD has also appealed to Kurds living in Europe to put pressure on Prague by “democratic actions”.

Saleh Muslim was reportedly attending an international conference in Prague and was arrested at Ankara’s request shortly after a Turkish participant took a picture of him. His fate will now be decided by a Czech court, with a final decision made by the justice minister who would have to sign an extradition order.

The whole situation is further complicated by the fact that two Czechs - Markéta Všelichová and Miroslav Farkas are currently imprisoned in Turkey where they were sentenced to six years in jail for allegedly supporting the Kurdish militia YPG. This has inevitably raised speculation that the Czech side may want to discuss a possible exchange.

Kurdish militia YPG,  photo: Kurdishstruggle,  CC BY 2.0
Meanwhile, the case has attracted considerable international attention. German politician Tomas Pfluger, former MEP and member of The Left party has condemned the arrest and called for Germany to request Muslim’s extradition as well. In the debate surrounding the issue Jerusalem Post notes that Chancellor Angela Merkel has in the past criticized Ankara for “misuse” of Interpol arrest warrants, which it made copious use of following the attempted coup in the country in 2016.