After the trauma of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, champions and icons of free speech head the pack in the names put forward for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, with jailed Saudi blogger Raef Badawi and fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden also receiving nominations.
"This year again one can see the candidates reflect the issues that dominated the news in recent months," Olav Njølstad, the Nobel Institute's new director, and also secretary of its awarding committee, told AFP.
While the official list of Nobel nominees remains a well-kept secret, those authorised to lodge nominations — members of parliament, past Nobel laureates, academics — can publicly announce their choices, fuelling speculation on the likely winners.
Norwegian member of parliament Michael Tetzschner, for instance, put up Flemming Rose, who a decade before last month's slaughter of French cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo magazine triggered global protests over depictions of the Muslim prophet.
"Giving the prize to a consistent defender of freedom of expression, even at a personal cost, would give a sign that those who try to muzzle that freedom through cowardly attacks against civilians, thus undermining peace between peoples, cannot ever succeed," Tetzschner wrote in his letter to the Nobel committee, according to NTB news agency.
Jyllands-Posten — which has been under constant Islamist threat since 2005 — stood out last month as the only major daily in Denmark not to publish Charlie Hebdo illustrations after a January 7 attack on the satirical magazine in Paris that left 12 dead.
Saudi blogger Badawi, who was jointly nominated with also jailed Saudi lawyer and rights activist Walid Abul Khair, has been condemned to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam and last month received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes.
"While everyone was saying 'I am Charlie' just a few weeks ago, heads of state attended the funeral of the king of Saudi Arabia, which violates all human rights, executes and whips people exercising their freedom of expression, and treats women worse than animals," said Norwegian MP Karin Andersen, who co-sponsored his candidacy for the Nobel award. "Those people weren't 'Charlie', they were simply cartoons," she told AFP.
– Pope and Snowden nominated again –
Other idols of free speech in the running for this year's peace prize include Snowden, who revealed the scale of the National Security Agency's (NSA) electronic surveillance, and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked documents to the New York Times damning to the US government during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg helped end the war and "paved the way for whistleblowers of today," said Norwegian MP Marit Arnstad, who nominated him.
Other candidates include Pope Francis — nominated by a Muslim Norwegian MP — Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and
his predecessor Moncef Marzouki. Also suggested are Egypt's Maggie Gobran for helping Cairo's poor, US academic and non-violent revolution expert Gene Sharp and a group campaigning
for Japan to remain committed to its policy of neutrality and pacifism.
Kristian Berg Harpviken, a prominent Nobel-watcher and director of Oslo's Peace Research Institute (Prio) but who has so far failed to correctly predict a winner — tipped Don Mussie Zerai, an Erithrean Catholic priest, for his work in helping sub-Saharan immigrants cross the Mediterranean safely.
Harpviken also said Russian anti-establishment newspaper Novaya Gazeta might pick up the prize at a time when President Vladimir Putin faces criticism for crushing dissent and supporting separatist rebels in Ukraine.
The current list of nominees can be lengthened by the five members of the Nobel committee at their first meeting in early March. The prize will be awarded in Oslo in early October.