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BEIJING — The Turkish government has called on China to close its indoctrination centers holding ethnic Uighurs, a rare instance of a major Muslim country criticizing China.

The statement marks a turnaround for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, which has been notably silent about China’s treatment of up to 1 million Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang. International condemnations of the detentions are growing, and Turkish opposition parties have pressed for a response since 2017.

In a statement Saturday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said that the reintroduction of internment camps in the present day and the systematic assimilation of Uighur Turks represent “a great shame for humanity.”

“It is no longer a secret that more than 1 million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing,” Aksoy said.

The ministry said it had “learned with deep sorrow” of the death of renowned Uighur folk poet Abdurehim Heyit, who was in Chinese custody.

It added that it would “commemorate Heyit and those who lost their lives defending Turkish and Muslim identity.”

China’s embassy in Ankara responded angrily to the statement, saying its internment program was designed to curb extremism and terrorism, threats that Turkey shares with China. It rejected Turkey’s remarks as “completely against the truth.”

Chinese state media also posted video footage online Sunday that purportedly shows Heyit alive in Chinese custody.

Tahir Hamut, a well-known Uighur film producer and poet in exile in Washington, D.C., said he heard from mutual friends Saturday that Heyit was alive.

“The Uighur people had always hoped Turkey would adopt this posture, and finally it has,” Hamut said. “But for the Turkish government to make statements without the relevant proof about Heyit is surprising. China will use this to refute Turkey’s criticism. That’s unfortunate.”

A Section on 02/11/2019

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