February 26, 2018 / 8:40 AM / 4 months ago

Czech court to rule on custody for Kurdish leader wanted by Turkey

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Czech court will rule on Tuesday whether former Syrian Kurdish PYD leader Saleh Muslim will be held in custody pending extradition proceedings requested by Turkey, which accuses him of several crimes, officials said.

Muslim was detained in Prague at the weekend and the court will either set him free or allow for a 40-day detention, during which time Turkey can deliver its extradition request.

A spokeswoman of the Prague Municipal Court said the hearing would take place on Tuesday morning.

Turkey’s ambassador to Prague Ahmet Necati said Muslim was wanted for aggravated murder as well as disrupting the integrity of the state. Necati said he hoped Muslim would be kept in custody.

“Our wish is that the court decides for the arrest... the Turkish government and the Turkish public opinion follow very closely these developments,” he told reporters.

“If the court decides to release this person... in my personal opinion it will mean support for terrorism. It would not be good for bilateral relations between Turkey and the Czech Republic which are excellent at the time being.”

Turkey launched a military offensive last month in Syria’s Afrin region against the Kurdish YPG militia, the PYD’s armed affiliate, which it deems a menace on its border.

Muslim formerly headed the PYD, the major component of a coalition that governs Kurdish-held autonomous parts of northern Syria, including Afrin.

Ankara sees the PYD and YPG as extensions of the outlawed Kurdish PKK movement, which has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil - though the groups say they are independent.

If Muslim is held in preliminary custody and Turkey delivers an extradition request, Czech courts will decide whether to grant the request. If they permit extradition, the final call will be with the justice minister, Robert Pelikan.

Saleh’s arrest took place after he had traveled to other European countries earlier this month. He took part in a demonstration in Switzerland and a Kurdish news website also quoted him speaking at an event in Brussels on Feb. 15.

The PYD party said on Sunday that Muslim, had “full citizenship rights” as a Syrian national and was visiting Europe in an official capacity.

The party accused the Turkish state of “demanding the arrest of individuals who are not its citizens ... without any legal justifications”.

A Turkish government spokesman said earlier it expected Muslim to appear in court on Monday.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Editing by David Dolan, William Maclean

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