HONG KONG—Chinese civil rights activists organized an online campaign to support the nomination of jailed AIDS activist Hu Jia to receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize, while others supported the official line warning the Oslo-based committee not to “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”
While Beijing's leaders will probably heave a sigh of relief following the announcement Friday that the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to former Finnish president and peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari, reaction online was more mixed.
"Very disappointed," one prominent blogger commented on the live update service Twitter.
Another said, "I guess Hu Jia just wasn't international enough."
"Jinyan," commented a third, addressing Hu Jia's wife, "we should still congratulate you. Not even [Chinese President] Hu, the leader of the biggest mafia gang in the world, has had the honor of a nomination bestowed upon him."
Wife under house arrest
Hu's wife Zeng Jinyan said that in the run-up to the announcement security had been stepped up around her apartment, where she has been kept under tight surveillance by state security police for nearly two years, unable to leave home for long stretches.
Now, whoever is the most fiercely anti-China gets Nobel Peace Prizes."
Nationalist Chinese blogger
"The police are on the staircase now. They won't let me leave," said Zeng, an AIDS activist and blogger who won an award from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders alongside Hu Jia last year.
"I think I'm going to have to stay at home. I can't go out after all. The baby is crying," she wrote via a Chinese update service relayed on Twitter.
"There are plainclothes police at the front and back of my apartment building," she added, just minutes ahead of the announcement.
Shortly after the award was announced, Zeng thanked her supporters.
"I have received so many e-mails and messages in recent days that I haven't had time to reply to them all. I apologize for this. I would just like to say thank you to everyone for their support," she wrote.
Civil rights activists said they had gathered a petition of 10,000 names in support of Hu Jia's nomination in recent weeks and hoped for the encouragement of international recognition that such an award would bring.
"He has done a lot of work and made a lot of personal sacrifices to protect people with HIV/AIDS. I respect his courage and his spirit," Sichuan-based civil rights activist Liu Zhengyou commented on the signature campaign.
Guizhou-based civil rights activist Wu Yuqin said of Hu's nomination: "This is definitely heartening news for us, although the Chinese Communist Party sees it as a threat because it shows an international recognition for civil rights activists in China, and that will make the government feel very uncomfortable."
Nationalist bloggers too
Other commentators were less enthusiastic.
"The Nobel 'Peace' Prize is just a joke now," said one commenter to the Anti-CNN Web site, set up to criticize Western media coverage of China after the Tibetan unrest, which began in Lhasa in March.
"Now, whoever is the most fiercely anti-China gets Nobel Peace Prizes," said another, translated on the international blogging site Global Voices.
"This prominent international award, controlled by Western countries, sure gets aimed around a lot. China wants to rise up and look how hard we have it. Go motherland! The more they try and do stuff like this, the more united we should be."
Chinese officials slammed the nomination of Hu Jia, calling for the award to be given "to the right person."
"If the Nobel Peace Prize is to be awarded to the people who indeed safeguard world peace, we think it should go to the right person," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters last week.
"We hope the relevant side will make the right decision, and not hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," Liu said.
Exiles hope for a dissident
Exiled Chinese dissidents had also been hoping for the recognition of a Chinese dissident. Civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng—whose whereabouts are currently unknown—was also among the nominees.
"I've been to prison, so I know," U.S.-based former 1989 student activist Tang Boqiao said.
"Ninety-nine percent of people would give in to the authorities once they get inside prison. Their will to live would be worn down and they would write a repentance letter," he added.
"A person like [Hu Jia] has dared to stand up to the dictatorship of the proletariat, so they have to use every means possible to grind him down."
Olympics rights campaign
Authorities in Beijing sentenced AIDS activist Hu Jia to 3-1/2 years in jail on April 3 for "incitement to subversion" after he wrote articles online critical of China's hosting of the Olympics.
Hu, 34, who suffers from Hepatitis B, was detained Dec. 27, 2007 after spending months under virtual house arrest because of his civil rights lobbying on behalf of disenfranchised people affected by the Olympics.
Hu's arrest came after he published a number of articles online calling for human rights, in a campaign that was linked to Beijing's hosting of the Olympics this summer.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee chose Ahtisaari to receive the U.S.$1.4 million prize from a field of 197 candidates.
The panel cited his work in helping establish Namibia's independence in 1989-90, his work to resolve a decades-long conflict in Indonesia's Aceh province in 2005, and his efforts to bridge divisions over the status of Kosovo as U.N. special envoy in 2005-07.
Ahtisaari served as Finland's president in 1994-2000.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Zi Jing, and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.