A Czech court has ruled for the release of Salih Muslum, the former leader of terrorist PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD) terrorist group, despite Turkey's request for his arrest and extradition, drawing the ire of Turkish ministers, who said the move is not in line with international law and is a reflection of supporting terrorism.
Muslum's lawyer said that his client "promised court not to obstruct further proceedings," Reuters reported.
Muslum was detained Saturday in the Czech capital Prague upon Turkey's request and detention order.
In a statement, the foreign ministry condemned the ruling, saying that it displays the "insincerity" of European countries regarding the fight against terrorism.
"The Czech court's rejection of Turkey's request to arrest PYD terror group's former chair Salih Muslim contradicts the Czech judicial system's responsibilities regarding international law and anti-terror fight," the ministry said.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey has issued a diplomatic note to Czechia over the release of Muslum and "will pursue him wherever he goes."
Responding to questions posed by journalists in Ankara shortly after the decision, government spokesperson Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said that the release of Muslum, whose name is on Turkey's most wanted list, is against international law.
"This is a decision that is contradictory to the joint stance that was taken for the fight against terrorism. This is a decision that will negatively affect Czech-Turkish relations. We will examine the reasons for this decision, but a terrorist leader that is active within a terrorist organization has been released. The whole world, including Czech, knows that the PYD, PKK and Daesh are terrorist organizations," Bozdağ said, adding that this decision shows open support to terrorism.
During the trial on Tuesday, Czech police ramped up security in front of the courthouse, as a group of pro-terrorist PYD/PKK protesters were demonstrating. Members of the press were not admitted into the courthouse.
Czech authorities had earlier asked Turkey to submit necessary documents for Muslum's extradition. Turkish security officials and the Ministry of Justice said they have already begun the administrative process for the demand.
Stating that these kinds of decisions are political and cannot be explained, the deputy prime minister further indicated that if international law was taken into the consideration, Muslum would be detained temporarily until a verdict was reached on his extradition.
Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül also condemned the decision, saying that Turkey considers the Czech court's decision to release terrorist PKK-linked PYD ex-chair Muslum as null and void.
Gül said that Turkey expects Czech authorities to correct the mistake of releasing the terrorist leader, as both countries are party to the convention on extradition of criminals.
"Muslum should have been arrested for no less than 18 days. But it is understood that the decision was issued based on political justifications rather than judicial," Gül added.
Prior to the decision by the Czech court, Justice Minister Gül also rejected the claims that there was a prisoner exchange deal for Salih Muslum. Gül's remarks came after some news reports claimed the Czech Republic would consider extraditing Muslum in exchange of its two jailed citizens in Turkey.
Speaking in Parliament, Gül said, "There is no proposal of exchange from Czech Republic. No such thing is on the agenda. The persons in question remain in jail in the eastern province of Van."
The Turkish Interior Ministry had offered a bounty of nearly $1 million for Muslum, who is being sought on charges of disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state, homicide, attempted homicide, damaging public property and transporting hazardous substances.
Ankara has long complained that EU member states and other countries often fail to honor its extradition requests for alleged criminals or members of terrorist groups.
Ahead of the trial, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım had called on the Czech Republic to extradite Salih Muslum.
"Today is exam day for our NATO ally – the Czech Republic," Yıldırım said in his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting.
Salih Muslum joined the PKK's Syrian offshoot PYD in 2003 and served as its co-chair between 2010 and 2017. In September 2017 he was replaced by Shahoz Hassan. The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU and NATO.
Turkey's Ministry of Justice and General Directorate of Security, who previously requested Czech authorities to detain Muslum after he was spotted, submitted the necessary files for Muslum's extradition.
Turkey had issued arrest warrants and subsequent red notices for Muslum and 47 other PKK high-rank figures in Nov. 2016, while a new red notice was issued for Muslim on Feb. 13 as he was included on the updated most wanted terrorists list with a four million Turkish lira ($1.05 million) bounty on his head.