The call follows recent reports that the Chinese authorities have launched a new campaign to suppress 'terrorist and separatist' activity in the XUAR. Local officials made it clear that 'ethnic separatists' were a major target of the campaign.

The human rights organisation has written to President Bush asking him to raise the issue of restrictions on freedom of religion in China on his visit there for the APEC conference this weekend.

'The Chinese authorities do not distinguish between 'terrorism' and 'separatism',' Amnesty International said. 'Separatism in fact covers a broad range of activities most of which amount to no more than peaceful opposition or dissent. Preaching or teaching Islam outside government controls is also considered subversive.'

While Amnesty International recognises that governments have a duty to take appropriate measures to ensure the security of their citizens, it is concerned that the Chinese authorities are trying to use the 11 September events to justify their harsh repression of Muslim ethnic groups in XUAR which they accuse of being 'separatists', 'terrorists' or 'religious extremists'.

Such accusations obscure a more complex reality in which a great many people not involved in violence have become the victims of gross human rights violations. Several hundred Uighurs accused of involvement in such activities have been executed since the mid-1990s, thousands of others have been detained, imprisoned and tortured, and growing restrictions have been placed on the Islamic clergy and the practice of Islam in the region.

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