Rebiya Kadeer is the head of the World Uighur Congress, which represents the Uighur community in exile.
She lives in the US, but is often blamed by the Beijing government for being behind protests and riots inside China's restive Xinjiang region.
Rebiya Kadeer has denied fomenting the violence in Xinjiang
She has rebuffed accusations that she has stirred up violence in the regional capital, Urumqi, in July 2009.
"I am fighting for the rights, for the self-determination for Uighurs," she said in a recent BBC interview.
She also denies Chinese accusations that she has links to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a separatist group the US put on its terrorist blacklist.
Released from prison in 2005 after spending six years in a Chinese jail, Mrs Kadeer fled to the suburbs of the US state of Virginia.
From there she presides over both the World Uighur Congress and the Uighur American Association. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
She was a successful businesswoman and philanthropist in China until her arrest in 1999 for allegedly endangering national security.
At the time the authorities said her crime was to send local newspaper reports about the activities of Xinjiang's Uighurs to her US-based husband, even though these were freely available.
It was a sharp reversal in fortunes for someone whose local achievements the Communist government had until then trumpeted.
Mrs Kadeer, twice-married and the mother of at least 11 children, grew up in poverty but at the time of her release was known locally as "the millionairess".
Human Rights Watch researcher Mickey Spiegel, who has met Mrs Kadeer's family several times, describes her as "a very enterprising woman, who was able to bring herself up, in a sense, by her bootstraps".
After working as a laundress, Mrs Kadeer founded and directed a large trading