Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 14:47 UK

China dissidents tipped for Nobel

By Lars Bevanger
BBC News, Oslo

Gao Zhisheng (file image)
Gao Zhisheng has defended Chinese citizens against the state

Two Chinese dissidents are tipped by Nobel watchers as possible winners of this year's Peace Prize, to be announced in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Friday.

There has been no Nobel Peace Prize winner from China since the Dalai Lama received the prestigious award in 1989.

Those trying to second-guess the Norwegian Nobel committee ahead of Friday's announcement put Chinese activists and dissidents Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia high on their lists.

The committee is famously tight-lipped about its work, and even discourages the naming of nominees by those who have nominated them.


It does not stop speculation, though. Someone who has been right about winners in the past is the director of Oslo's International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Stein Toennesson.

The Nobel committee might give the prize to a Chinese now the games are over
Janne Haaland Matlary
"There are three reasons why I think a Chinese dissident could get the prize this year," he told the BBC.

"This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it timely to highlight human rights violations in China now.

"No Chinese except the Dalai Lama has received the prize before. And lastly, the Nobel committee might have found it unhelpful to provoke China ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, when improvements in human rights were expected. Now that is no longer the case."

Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international politics at the University of Oslo, shared this view.

"During the Olympics, China demonstrated how they repress human rights like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

"I believe the Nobel committee might give the prize to a Chinese now that the games are over," she told the BBC.

Jailed activist Hu Jia, pictured in January 2007
Hu Jia is one of China's most famous dissidents
Hu Jia is in jail for inciting subversion of state power. Gao Zhisheng, a prominent lawyer and campaigner, is thought to remain in custody after being detained in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

The Beijing government has warned the Norwegian Nobel committee to make what it called "the right decision" and not upset the Chinese people.

The committee is independent from the Norwegian government, and says it will never be swayed by outside pressure.

Cluster bombs

It is not unusual for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to human rights campaigners.

But this year it could also go to someone more directly involved in conflict prevention.

The will is over 100 years old, and naturally reflects the problems of its time
Sverre Lodgaard
This year 111 countries agreed to ban cluster munitions, an achievement which could be credited to the work of the NGO umbrella group, the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC).

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, both reportedly nominated this year, could be awarded for helping stop Kenya's post-election violence by agreeing to share power.

But that would mean overlooking the efforts made by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has already received the Peace Prize for his work at the UN.

Changing scope

It has been the express wish of the Norwegian Nobel committee to broaden the scope of the peace prize, to reflect the various ways peace can be promoted in a modern world.

Wangari Maathai on 20 February 2008
Ms Maathai won the award for her promotion of ecologically viable reform
Recent winners include environmental campaigners like Wangirai Maathai and Al Gore, as well as Muhammad Yunus and his microfinance organisation the Grameen Bank.

Some commentators here have called this a deviation from Alfred Nobel's original will, which says the prize is for those who give "the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies".

But Sverre Lodgaard, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and first deputy member of the Norwegian Nobel committee, thinks it is a natural development.

"Of course the committee must keep in mind the original wording in the will. But the will is over 100 years old, and naturally reflects the problems of its time.

"It is not unreasonable for today's committee to feel a degree of freedom to interpret that will," Mr Lodgaard told the BBC.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 will be announced at 1100 (0900 GMT) on Friday 10 October. The $1.3m (750,000) award will be presented to the winner at a ceremony in Oslo on 10 December.

China makes Nobel prize warning
07 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China's voices of dissent
29 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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