Forget spy smears. The Czech Republic is now arresting politicians on Turkey’s behalf.

Salih Muslim PYD
Ed Sykes

The Czech Republic has hit the news recently because of failed media smears aimed at UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. But the European country now appears to think it’s ok to arrest politicians on Turkey’s behalf.

Who? And why?

Salih Muslim is a former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). This is the main party in northern Syria, where Kurdish-led communities have been building a multicultural and feminist democracy amid the country’s civil war. Their People’s Protection Units (YPG), meanwhile, have been leading the fight against Daesh (Isis/Isil) for years. Even the West recognises them as some of the most effective anti-Daesh ground forces; and both the UK and the US have given them increasing strategic support since late 2014.

However, Turkey has now been attacking the YPG for weeks, reportedly killing over 100 civilians in the process. Critics have called this a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”.

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And it’s in this context that Turkey has asked the Czech Republic to extradite Muslim. It claims he’s a ‘terrorist’, and reportedly offered around £715,000 for his arrest. Czech authorities arrested him on 25 February. On 27 February, a judge decided it wasn’t necessary to keep him in custody, but Muslim’s lawyer insisted that “proceedings have only started”.

The PYD and its allies condemn all attacks on civilians.

“Accusations against him are false”

Numerous political figures have rushed to defend Muslim:

Independent journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg, meanwhile, has called the accusations against Muslim “false”, and an attempt to “silence” him:

There have also been protests in London calling for Muslim’s release:

Turkey just can’t handle criticism

On 26 February, veteran journalist Amberin Zaman (whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once told to “know your place”) said of Muslim’s arrest:

It remains unclear what evidence if any Turkey has… The move is a further sign of how Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has abandoned efforts to make peace with its Kurds… [and reverted to] criminalizing their political leaders.

In a recent interview, Muslim himself told her:

everyone knows the issue is political.

Indeed, since Erdoğan ended a promising peace process in 2015, his government has arrested democratically elected politicians and thousands of political opponents. And Muslim definitely fits the bill of a political opponent:

Muslim has also shared tweets portraying Erdoğan as a murderer and “children killer“. And we all know how Erdoğan’s Turkey, a human rights abuser which Reporters Without Borders has called “the world’s biggest prison for the media profession”, hates criticism. But if such criticism is too much for Erdoğan to handle, perhaps he should stop attacking civilians – or better yet, end his invasion of northern Syria altogether.

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, is setting an incredibly worrying precedent – essentially allowing Erdoğan to extend his crackdown on dissent to European soil. And we mustn’t stand for it.

Get Involved!

– Write to Theresa May and your MP. Ask them to urge Turkey to stop its war on Afrin; to resume peace talks with its internal opponents; and to release all political prisoners.

– Read more Canary articles on Turkey and Afrin. Also, watch our recent interviews with people who have witnessed the current situation in Turkey and northern Syria first hand.

Featured image via Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung/Flickr

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