Hu Jia could be awarded the Nobel peace prize to continue human rights pressure on China after the Beijing Olympics
This year's Nobel peace prize will most likely be awarded to a Chinese dissident to highlight China's human rights record in the wake of the Olympic Games, according to experts who closely follow the workings of the award.
A likely candidate to receive the prize, the winner of which will be announced on October 10 in Oslo, is Hu Jia, a Chinese activist who has campaigned on democracy, the environment and the rights of HIV/Aids patients. Hu is serving three-and-a-half years in jail for "inciting to subvert state power".
"The prize will go this year to a Chinese dissident and I believe the most likely [recipient] will be Hu Jia, perhaps together with his wife [Zeng Jinyan]," said Stein Toennesson, director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, and a close observer of the peace prize. "He has become the most well known Chinese dissident now and it has been a very long time since anyone [related to China] has won the prize." The last occasion was the Dalai Lama in 1989.
Experts said the Norwegian Nobel committee, the secretive five-strong body that awards the prize yearly, would see the passing of the Olympic Games as an opportunity to highlight China's human rights record, especially in a year marking the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights.
"There was a lot of repression during the Olympic Games. Now is a golden opportunity to underline that repression is unacceptable," said Janne Haaland Matlary, a professor of international relations at the University of Oslo, and a previous candidate to be a member of the Nobel committee.
Since the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, "it has become more and more difficult to criticise China as it became more forceful and powerful," said Toennesson. "It has also been an argument not to disturb the run-up to the Olympics because it will be of momentous importance not only for the regime, but also for the Chinese people."
Some 164 invididuals and 33 organisations are nominated for this year's prize, including Bob Geldof, Vladimir Putin and the Esperanto language. The committee does not publish the names of nominees but those who can nominate, including parliamentarians, former laureates and academics, can choose to reveal their choices.
The committee could choose to honour Thich Quang Do, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has been fighting for religious freedom and democracy in the Communist nation. "He has been a systematic opponent to the regime," said Toennesson.
The Chechen human rights lawyer Lydia Yusupova is another contender. "It would be an opportunity to focus on Russia at a time of increased interest following the conflict with Georgia," said Matlary.
Morgan Tsvangirai could be honoured "because he has stuck to non-violent means to bring about regime change against Robert Mugabe," said Toennesson. But he added: "It would be perhaps too risky to give it to him now that he is PM."
Another name mentioned is Ingrid Betancourt, who could be honoured for "maintaining, despite her ordeal, that political transformation must happen through peaceful and democratic means" in a country - Colombia - that is living through the world's longest running civil war.
The committee could decide to name a journalist or media organisation. "Good news coverage, as opposed to propaganda or inaccurate reports, can be essential to peace," the secretary of the Nobel committee, Professor Geir Lundestad, previously told the Guardian. He mentioned possible contenders such as CNN, the New York Times, Le Monde or El Pais.
Celebrity activists such as Bono and Geldof could be considered. "Celebrities have been able to raise international awareness on issues such as Darfur and put pressure on China over its relationship with the Sudanese government," said Toennesson.
The prize is announced in October each year, and the award ceremony takes place in December in Oslo. Last year's winners were Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.