Czechs release Syrian Kurdish politician, angering Turkey

PRAGUE (AP) — A Czech court ordered the release of a Syrian Kurdish politician on Tuesday, angering Turkey, which had requested his extradition.

Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was detained in the Czech capital on Saturday based on a Turkish request for his arrest.

Municipal Court spokeswoman Marketa Puci said the court found no reason to keep Muslim in detention. She said he promised to remain within European Union territory and to be available for any further hearings in the extradition case.

No date for the extradition hearing was set.

Turkey considers the PYD a terrorist group because of its links to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within its own borders. Muslim was put on Turkey’s most wanted list earlier this month, with a $1 million reward for his capture.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described Tuesday’s ruling as a “scandal.” He told reporters during a visit to Algeria that his ministry had lodged a formal protest and would follow the case closely.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the court ruling would have a negative effect on ties between Turkey and the Czech Republic.

“This decision very clearly amounts to support for terrorist groups,” Bozdag said.

The Czech Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it “strictly rejects any accusations of supporting terrorism.”

The government “strictly refuses any claims that today’s decision by an independent court would be in breach of the Czech Republic’s obligations in the fight against international terrorism.”

Ahead of the Prague ruling, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the court’s decision would be a “test” for the Czech Republic on its sensitivity toward the fight against terrorism and its solidarity toward a NATO ally.

“Whatever the outcome, these terrorist ringleaders will not be able to walk free,” Yildirim said. “We will continue to make life unbearable for them.”

The PYD is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential in the party, even after stepping down as co-chair last year.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, from the enclave of Afrin. The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD.


Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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