NEW YORK • After the Chinese authorities blocked Canadian beauty queen Anastasia Lin from attending the 65th annual Miss World pageant in China last year, the event's British organisers offered her a consolation prize, of sorts: They promised to allow her a chance to compete in the 2016 finals, which are currently under way in suburban Washington.
What they did not tell her was that she could smile but not speak out publicly during the event, which is largely sponsored by Chinese companies.
Over the past three weeks, as she and her fellow contestants rehearsed for Tuesday's finale, Ms Lin - an actress, classically trained pianist and outspoken critic of Chinese human rights abuses - has been barred from speaking to the media, friends and relatives said.
They said officials with the London-based pageant have also refused to allow Ms Lin, 26, to attend the US premiere of a movie in which she appears.
The film, The Bleeding Edge, has angered Beijing with its dramatisation of what human rights advocates describe as government-sanctioned programmes that harvest the organs of Chinese prisoners of conscience.
And last week, when a US State Department official requested a meeting with Ms Lin to discuss the continuing harassment of her father in China, pageant executives relented only after Ms Lin agreed to be accompanied by a pageant employee.
The Miss World Organisation declined to answer questions about the restrictions it has placed on Ms Lin, but friends said they had little doubt about its motivations.
Pageant officials, they said, are simply doing the bidding of the Chinese government, which has spent the past year trying to silence Ms Lin, who was born in China but emigrated to Canada at age 13.
Since 2003, the Miss World pageant has been held six times in Sanya, a tropical city in southern China, and Chinese companies have become the main sponsors of the decades-old competition.
The local government has spent US$31 million (S$44 million) to upgrade infrastructure for the competition, according to the Chinese media.
The Miss World Organisation has been aggressive in its effort to prevent reporters from speaking to Ms Lin. Two weeks ago, pageant officials interrupted an interview she was giving to Mr Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, in the lobby of the Maryland hotel where the contestants are staying.
"Two of them hustled Lin from the lobby, angrily accusing her of breaching the rules and causing trouble," he wrote. "The third blocked me from talking to Lin, and assured me that my interview would be scheduled the next day. It wasn't, of course."
Such restrictions apparently do not apply to the Chinese media. Over the past few weeks, reporters from two Chinese media outlets have been given free rein to interview contestants.