Model takes Myanmar's fight for democracy to world stage

Myanmar model Han Lay made an impassioned plea for urgent international help for her country when taking part in the Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Thailand late last month. PHOTO: REUTERS
Myanmar model Han Lay made an impassioned plea for urgent international help for her country when taking part in the Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Thailand late last month. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Myanmar model Han Lay did not win the Miss Grand International beauty pageant two weeks ago, but she will be remembered as one of its most impassioned contestants.

The 22-year-old made an impact in Thailand late last month for her emotive speech in which she pleaded for "urgent international help" for her country, the same day that 141 demonstrators were killed in a crackdown by military rulers she said were selfish and abusing their power.

She said that her compatriots in an anti-coup movement would not back away from a struggle that has so far claimed close to 550 lives in the two months since the generals overthrew Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government.

"I can say one thing, that we Myanmar citizens will never give up," she told Reuters.

"They told me that they will fight on the street and I'm also fighting my way on the stage now. So I think that if they will not give up, we will win," she said.

Myanmar has descended into chaos since the coup, with daily demonstrations and strikes designed to cripple the country's administration, many of which have been lethally suppressed by security forces with live ammunition.

The victims have mostly been young people, born in the latter years of the military's half-century rule before it made way in 2011 for a brief era of democracy and economic reform.

Recalling the day of the contest, she said her speech, during which she fought back tears, triggered deep sorrow that she was unable to contain. "I controlled my feeling at that time because I need to speak out during two or three minutes to all the world."

"I need to speak out," she added. "I cried a lot and also the whole night when I got back to my room, I cried a lot. Until now when I speak out about Myanmar I cry a lot too."

She said she was unable to focus on the competition and felt guilty about the people suffering back home.

"Beauty queens need to smile every time, need to connect with every people, very personally," she said.

"I can't be happy here because (while) I do daily activities here, so many people died in Myanmar."

The competition's founder, Mr Nawat Itsaragrisil, said Ms Han Lay's decision to speak out against the junta means she will have to remain overseas for now.

"If she (is) going back to Myanmar right now, she is not going back home, she is going to jail," he said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2021, with the headline 'Model takes Myanmar's fight for democracy to world stage'. Subscribe