A Myanmar beauty queen who publicly criticized her country’s military and was later stranded at a Bangkok airport arrived in Canada on Wednesday, where she is seeking asylum.
“Everything happened so fast and I only have a few pieces of clothing,” she told the broadcaster before flying to Canada. But, she said, “I have spoken for Myanmar wherever I go. Since Canada is a safe place for me, I will have more opportunities to speak about this issue.”
Han Ley first gained worldwide attention at the Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Thailand, when she used her time on stage to speak out against Myanmar’s military rulers.
At the time, a junta known as the Tatmadaw had just seized power and anti-military protests were underway. Army and police confronted the protesters with lethal force. On one particularly bloody day, March 27, security forces killed more than 160 protesters.
How the Myanmar Army terrorized its people
On the same day, Han Le was one of the 20 finalists in the competition on a stage in Bangkok, wearing a traditional white gown.
“Today in my country, Myanmar, as I walk this stage, many people are dying; More than 100 people died today,” she told the audience and cameras as she wiped away tears. “I am deeply sorry for all the people who lost their lives.”
“Every citizen of the world wants their country to be prosperous and peaceful,” she added. “In doing so, leaders involved should not exercise their power and selfishness.”
The speech brought Han Le into the spotlight and drew protests and threats on social media, she said. After the spectacle, she stayed in Thailand to avoid possible arrest in her home country, where thousands have been injured or killed since the military takeover. Thousands more are in prison, and in July military forces executed four pro-democracy activists, including two key leaders of the resistance.
But on September 21, after a brief trip to Vietnam, Han Le was denied entry at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Thai officials said her Myanmar-issued travel documents were invalid, Reuters reported. She wrote on Facebook the next day that Myanmar police officers were also at the airport and had tried to contact her.
As the world moves on, Myanmar faces a growing, hidden toll
“I will use my human right to refuse to meet the Myanmar police,” she wrote, adding that she had requested help from Thai authorities and the United Nations.
According to Human Rights Watch, the move was “a deliberate political move by the junta to render her stateless.”
“There is no doubt that this was a trap to try to force Han Le to return to Myanmar, where she would have been immediately arrested, possibly detained and imprisoned,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director. Statement on Wednesday.
He said governments should be “wary” of attempts by Myanmar’s military forces to use “similar tactics against overseas dissidents traveling on Myanmar passports in the future”.
“Repressive Burmese military dictators have sought to use their control over Myanmar passports as a weapon against their own people’s rights to travel internationally,” Robertson said.