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Nobel prize for dissident?

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James Reynolds | 09:48 UK time, Thursday, 25 September 2008

Is it possible that a skinny young man sitting in a Chinese jail will win the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize?

There's speculation that the Chinese activist Hu Jia - who's currently serving a three and a half year jail sentence - might be awarded this year's prize.

Zeng Jinyan and Hu JiaHu Jia, who's 35, is already one of China's most prominent activist/dissidents. He's campaigned for the environment, for democracy, and for the rights of people with HIV and Aids. The Communist Party objected to his activism. In April this year, a Beijing court found him guilty of "inciting subversion of state power".

I met Hu Jia a couple of times before he was jailed. The first time was a year ago at the small Beijing apartment he shares with his wife, Zeng Jinyan, who's also an activist.

Hu Jia was a slight, shy figure. His wife - who speaks good English - was more talkative. Their apartment was cluttered with boxes, DVDs (including a few series of Friends) and baby stuff - Zeng Jinyan was seven months pregnant with their first child. At the time, Hu Jia was under house arrest - police officers even slept on the floor right outside the front door to make sure he didn't escape. He was only allowed out of the house to accompany his wife for doctors' visits (followed by the police, of course).

A couple of months later, the couple went to hospital for the birth of their daughter, called Qianci. My colleagues and I filmed them in hospital as they got ready to check out and go back home. Hu Jia spent most of his time filming his wife and daughter with his own hi-definition video camera. Plain clothes police officers stood in the hospital parking lot, keeping an eye on the couple and their baby. The officers managed to miss Hu Jia when he went from one part of the hospital to another - they ran after him in a slight panic when they realised he was out of their sight.

At the end of 2007, Hu Jia was formally detained. We tried to go and interview his wife at their apartment - but we were stopped by uniformed officers and taken to a nearby police post for our details to be taken down. Then, in April, Hu Jia was tried and sentenced.

We haven't been able to interview Zeng Jinyan since the day her husband was sentenced - the authorities still stop people from going to visit her. But she does keep up a blog in Chinese.

To the Communist Party, the couple are annoying opponents who deliberately break the law and try to embarrass the country. It's hard to tell what ordinary Chinese people make of Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan because their activism is barely reported here.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner will be announced on Friday 10 October.


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