Over the past decade China has used the global "war on terror" to jail thousands of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in the far-western and restive Xinjiang region, a minority rights group said Sunday.
Beijing has attributed any social unrest in Xinjiang to the forces of "terrorism, separatism and religious extremism" and has jailed and even executed alleged perpetrators, the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress said.
"The Chinese authorities found in 9/11 the perfect excuse to crack down on all forms of peaceful political, social and cultural Uighur dissent," the exiled head of the Congress, Rebiya Kadeer, said in a statement.
"The past decade has proved that the Chinese government is misusing the fight against terrorism to curb Uighur dissent and silence political opponents.
"While the number of protests against government policies is increasing day by day in the whole country, only Uighur protests are labelled as 'terrorism'."
Numerous outbreaks of ethnic violence have erupted in Xinjiang in recent years as the Uighur minority bristles under what it regards as cultural and religious oppression and an unwanted immigration of ethnic Han Chinese.
Tensions boiled over in July, when two knife attacks as well as clashes between Uighurs and police left more than 40 people in the resource-rich and strategic region dead.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia are among the countries the area borders.
According to the Congress, China was mainly using "state security" laws, including subversion and separatism, to convict Uighurs suspected of fomenting unrest.
According to official government statistics, judicial departments heard over 375 cases of endangering state security in Xinjiang in 2010, with an average of three people tried in each case, the group said.
"It is very likely that XUAR (Xinjiang) courts tried more than 1,000 defendants for endangering state security in 2010, and it is safe to conclude that the overwhelming majority were convicted," the statement said.
Up to 7,000 Uighurs may have been jailed for violations of state security laws since 2001, when China joined the global "war on terror" following the 9/11 attacks on the US, the group said, citing press reports and independent rights groups.
China has also successfully repatriated from neighbouring countries at least 180 Uighurs since 2001, jailing and even executing those returnees subsequently convicted of state security violations, it said.