Twenty Uygur men in Xinjiang have been sentenced to terms of up to life imprisonment for involvement in terrorism and "inciting secession" in the ethnically divided western region, state media said.
The men were convicted of a series of crimes, including circulating religious extremist material and attempting to set up an internet chat room to promote "ethnic separatism", the Tianshan news website said.
The local government mouthpiece also said the men were accused of spreading information about the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Beijing, the United States and the United Nations.
One of the men was accused of attacking "innocent people" and smashing cars, motorbikes and other property, it said on Tuesday, after the men were sentenced.
An official in the Xinjiang region's publicity office said yesterday that it had no details of the case, while the local court and police were unavailable for comment.
Xinjiang is home to some nine million Uygurs, many of whom complain of religious and cultural repression by the authorities - accusations the government denies.
The sentences were yesterday branded as "repressive" by an overseas Uygur group.
"It is a specific repressive tool of the Chinese authorities to suspect a Uygur of terrorism and to hand them a heavy sentence," Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman for the exiled World Uygur Congress, said in an e-mail.
Sources told the organisation that the men were detained after they listened to Uygur-language programmes on US-based Radio Free Asia and downloaded videos from the YouTube website.
"They also used the internet to discuss religion and the importance of protecting ethnic culture and traditions," Rexiti said.
Xinjiang has been under strict security since July 2009, when bloody ethnic riots broke out in the capital Urumqi that killed 200 people, the government claimed. The violence was sparked by clashes between Han and Uygur workers at a factory in Shaoguan , Guangdong.