An investigation by the Associated Press news agency shows a systematic campaign by the Chinese government to strip young Uighur Muslims of their language and culture. The UN has said around one million Muslims in the Xinjiang region have been rounded up and held in so-called "re-education" centres - camps the Uighurs claim are intended to replace the next generation's Uighur identity with a Chinese one. The Chinese government has denied the allegations. Al Jazeera's Mereana Hond speaks with Uighurs who have not seen their children in years.
Has China just issued its first conciliatory statement towards the Uighur Muslim ethnic group, which has been persecuted for years? And has it done so out of fear or embarrassment that Uighur Islamic militants have now gone global, fighting for Islamic causes in many corners of the globe? Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, speaking to the Communist Party chief and party delegates of Xinjiang province, appeared to be acknowledging for the first time the deep frustration felt by young Uighurs, the eradication of Uighur culture and, most seriously, the lack of jobs in the province. "Let the people, especially the young, have something to do and money to earn," he told them at China's annual meeting of parliament. He urged private companies to invest in Xinjiang and for the majority Han Chinese population to mingle more with their Uighur brothers.
Xinjiang in China's far west is home to 10 million people from the Uighur minority. Most Uighurs are Muslim, and many complain of discrimination and marginalisation. Uighur pop singer Ablajan Awut Ayup, or "AJ", is a local sensation, who says he wants to bridge the cultural gap by appealing to both China's majority Han and Uighur audiences.
Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000 and possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minorities in so-called "re-education camps", according to testimony from United States State Department official, Scott Busby, before Congress on December 4. The Chinese government initially denied these camps exist. However, they've now legalised them and say these are merely vocational, educational training centres intended to "combat extremism" - despite the fact that some of those detained are reportedly university presidents or other Communist Party officials. Some say this is one of the world's most ignored human rights crisis. Ilshat Hassan, a Uighur activist and president of the Uyghur American Association, was forced to leave China in 2003 and has been separated from his family ever since. "They [police] used electric, the baton, and they electricised me twice in one interrogation," Hassan recalls his experience of being monitored as a teacher at a vocational training college, and having been arrested twice, beaten and electrocuted.