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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

China makes Nobel prize warning

Jailed activist Hu Jia, pictured in January 2007
Hu Jia's case has attracted considerable international attention

China has said it hopes the Nobel Peace Prize will reward what it called "the right person", amid reports that jailed dissidents top the list of favourites.

BBC: The Prize is to be awarded on Friday in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

The Chinese foreign ministry said some past choices had gone against the prize's original purpose of promoting world peace and human progress.

The award went to the Dalai Lama 19 years ago, and dissidents Hu Jia and Gao Zhisheng are on this year's list.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human rights.

Stein Toennesson, who leads the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, says a Chinese dissident is hotly tipped to win.

"The Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had hoped for, but instead led to a number of strict security measures," Mr Toennesson told AP news agency.

Of the nearly 200 nominees for the Peace Prize, Hu Jia is seen as the most likely contender.

A democracy and Aids activist, Mr Hu is the best-known of China's imprisoned dissidents.

He is credited with chronicling instances of abuse and alerting both fellow Chinese human rights activists and foreign news organisations.

He was convicted last April of inciting subversion, and is now serving a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence.

His wife has been placed under house arrest.

Torture allegations

Gao Zhisheng, another strong candidate, is a writer and self-trained lawyer who defended Chinese citizens against the state, including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Gao Zhisheng ( file photo)
Gao Zhisheng is also a contender for the prize
Mr Gao has been beaten, harassed and given a suspended jail sentence in the last few years.

He was also reportedly targeted by an assassination attempt.

He has not been seen since he was taken from his home in September 2007 - although it has been alleged that he was tortured and has attempted suicide.

Today's remarks by the foreign ministry in Beijing are being read as a warning that a Nobel win for either Hu Jia or Gao Zhisheng would severely strain relations between China and the West.

But in opting for tough language, the Chinese government may be doing itself a disservice, according to a BBC Asia analyst, Andre Vornic.

The Nobel committee is unlikely to be swayed by crude pressure, he says. If anything, a perception of bullying could further stack the odds in favour of China's jailed dissidents.

However, with or without China's interference, their win is far from certain.

Other candidates on the short list include Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the Cluster Munitions Coalition.

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