updated 9/24/2008 4:10:12 PM ET 2008-09-24T20:10:12

The annual guessing game about who will get the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize focused this year on a possible human rights rebuke for China.

Experts said the coveted prize could also be used to chastise Russia or Vietnam when it is announced Oct. 10.

"I think there is a big chance for it to be a human rights prize," said peace researcher Stein Toennesson, who sent out his list of possible winners Wednesday.

He thought the prize could go to Chinese activist Hu Jia, possibly together with his wife Zeng Jinyan, and if not, then to Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do or to Russian human rights lawyer Lidia Yusupova.

The secretive five-member Nobel Peace Prize committee gives no hints and won't even say who has been nominated. It only gives the number of nominations — 197 this year, the second highest total ever.

With no inside information available, Toennesson's well-documented and occasionally correct guesses have become the cornerstone of world Nobel Peace Prize speculation.

Long list of prospects
Other top prospects on his list were Zimbabwe's former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai; Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician and anti-corruption activist freed in July after six years being held hostage by the Marxist FARC rebels; and Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and The African Union, for restoring peace in Kenya followed last year's national elections.

Last year, Toennesson correctly guessed the prize would be related to climate change, and that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore would share it. The prize went to Gore and the U.N. climate panel.

Janne Haaland Matlary, a political science professor at the University of Oslo, agreed that China could figure high on the award committee's agenda this year.

"During the Games, we saw a lot of repression," said Matlary.

Toennesson said the committee could also pick the 80-year-old Vietnamese monk and dissident Do, who works for religious freedom, democracy and human rights.

Matlary and Toennesson both said the committee might pick Russia's Yusupova as a sharp criticism of the Kremlin's crackdown on press freedoms and human rights.

Some candidates are named by those making the nominations.

This year, known nominees also include Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng; former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu; former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl; former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari for his peace efforts; Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for his alternative fuels initiative; Irish rock star Bob Geldof; the Peace Jam Foundation; the environmental group Greenpeace; and American Jesuit Priest John Dear.

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 Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

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