OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Human rights activists were seen as the favorites to win the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize -- including Chinese dissidents Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia, Russia's Lidia Yusupova, Vietnam's Thich Quang Do or the group Human Rights Watch.
Chinese AIDS and human rights activist Hu Jia, a jailed dissident, speaks at a cafe in Beijing
Even mentioning a Chinese dissident as a possible winner brought threatening growls of disapproval from Beijing, which declared Thursday that Hu, a jailed dissident, was not a legitimate contender.
"If the prize is awarded to such a person it would be against the purpose of such a prize," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, adding it should go to someone who has "truly made contributions to world peace."
Until Friday's announcement, the name of the winner or winners is one of Norway's most closely guarded secrets. The secretive five-member Norwegian awards committee won't even say who the candidates are, just the number of nominations -- 197 this year -- and when the announcement will be made: 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).
Other possible winners include Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai; Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician and anti-corruption activist rescued from six years captivity by Marxist FARC rebels; the Cluster Munitions Coalition; and the African Union, for restoring peace in Kenya after election-sparked riots.
Speculation is leaning heavily toward a human rights prize because the committee has often linked its award to the anniversary of some significant event. This year is the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
Coincidentally, the declaration was signed on December 10, the date of the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies and the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
China is in the spotlight amid the afterglow of its successful Beijing Olympics because the committee might want to remind China's leaders that the world has not forgotten its crackdown in Tibet and on human rights activists, including Gao and Hu, both arrested ahead of the games and still in jail.
Hu began by campaigning for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, but became a brash human rights activist who chronicled the arrests and harassment of other activists until he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in April.
Gao is a lawyer who became a prominent critic of China's civil rights.
Stein Toennesson, director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, whose picks tend to shape world speculation, said last week that the prize committee might pick a Chinese activist because "the Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had hoped for, but instead led to a number of strict security measures."
Last year, he correctly guessed that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore would share the prize for his climate awareness campaign.
Irish bookmaker Paddypower was giving 7-4 odds on Hu on Thursday, but did not list Gao. Nordic bookmaker Betsafe had 5-1/2 to 1 odds on Hu and 10-1 on Gao.
The last time the Nobel committee took a slap at China, with the 1989 award to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Beijing reacted with rage, threatening to break off relations with Norway if anyone from the government or the royal family attended the awards ceremony.
The king and queen and other government members attended anyway.
The awards committee is appointed by Norway's parliament, but answers neither to the lawmakers nor the government.
Toennesson, and others, said the committee could also pick the 80-year-old Vietnamese monk and dissident Do (4-1 odds from Paddy and 7-1 from Betsafe), who works for religious freedom, democracy and human rights.
Russian human rights lawyer Yusupova is also seen as a possible pick and a sharp criticism of the Kremlin's crackdown on press freedoms and human rights.
Helge Hveem, a professor of political science at the University of Oslo, was backing a little-mentioned long-shot: Eastern Congo Pastor Bulambo Lembelembe Josue for his efforts to ease ethnic tensions.
Hveem wrote that the Congo is one of the world's most violent places and that Josue "meets violence with fearless mediation, suggestions and peace efforts."
The peace prize is presented in Oslo while Nobel prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics and economics are handed out in Stockholm, Sweden. The ceremonies are always on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.