The Nobel Committee has never named its nominees but Stein Toennesson, director of the International Peace Research Institute (IPRI), said the prize this year coincides with the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and may be “awarded to someone active in defending human rights” and a Chinese dissident will “likely” be the recipient, either Gao Zhisheng or Hu Jia, both of whom are in prison.
On the IPRI website Director Toennesson wrote that if the Committee felt a need to avoid offending the People’s Republic of China in the years preceding the Beijing Olympics to encourage improvements in human rights it might reconsider in view of the fact that “the Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had hoped for”.
Hu has been outspoken on the rights of AIDS patients and has become an icon among Chinese dissidents, writing articles, preparing legal recourses and presenting the international community with the work of all other opponents to the regime.
He has worked with foreign media and embassies, providing material on human rights violations by the Communist Party, and more recently about people harassed because of the Olympic Games.
He was arrested last December and sentenced to three and half years for instigating subversive activity when he criticised the government for its violations of human rights to prepare the Olympics.
He could get the prize along with his wife Zeng Jinyan (see photo), who for months has been under house arrest and tight police surveillance with their infant daughter.
Talking about possible government reactions, it is “not necessarily a bad thing for my husband and me,” she told the South China Morning Post.
Gao Zhisheng is a lawyer who has protested the treatment of members of the Falun Gong movement.
On 22 September 2007 he was taken away from his home where he had been under house arrest and has not been heard ever since.
This said the Chinese government is not amused. “I hope the committee will make the right decision and not challenge the original purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize or hurt Chinese people's feelings,” said Liu Jianchao, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry. The prize should go to those who “truly contributed” to world peace, he said.
By contrast, Wan Yanhai, a veteran AIDS activist and co-founder with Hu of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute, hailed the possibility that a Chinese might get the prize.
“It is great news for activists like us who are campaigning for human rights in China. This kind of encouragement from the international community is exactly what we need.”
“The international community should know that Chinese human rights campaigners are prepared” to make sacrifices, Mr Wan said. It “is time for the country to undergo some important changes.”
Chechen human rights lawyer Lidiya Yusupova is seen as another strong contender for her work on human rights abuses such as torture, kidnapping and executions across Chechnya.
Another name circulating as possible laureate is that of Vietnamese Buddhist monk and human rights activist Thich Quang Do.
The last Nobel Peace Prize that went to a human rights activist was awarded to Iranian Shirin Ebadi in 2003.
In 1989 it went to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile.