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Campaigners urge global boycott of beauty pageant event in Myanmar – Radio Free Asia

Activists have been calling for a boycott this week of a major beauty pageant to be held in Myanmar, citing the junta’s continued human rights violations since the country’s 2021 coup.

The Thailand-based beauty pageant Miss Grand International announced on Wednesday it will hold its 2024 competition in Yangon, where it was also held in 2018.

As of Oct. 27, over 19,000 political prisoners are still being detained and more than 4,000 have died at the hands of the junta, according to figures compiled by Thailand-based human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The pageant’s critics say the competition will only bolster a junta desperate for foreign currency. For thousands who will attend the show, their visa fees, hotel stays, taxes and other expenses will feed into the military’s treasury, said Sophia Sarkis, a Burmese-Australian beauty queen calling for a boycott.

“This is really disrespectful, it’s like a slap on the face,” she told Radio Free Asia of the decision as violence continues nationwide. “Our country of Myanmar is a war zone, people are dying, people are struggling and we are still in the revolution.”

Others said it could also endanger contestants.

Those participating should know the risks of entering the country, said Maryrose Salubre, a human rights activist and pageant founder.

“I think each and every one of these queens, including the organizers and national director should think first about the safety of others,” she said, adding that she plans to spread awareness through her networks.

Miss Grand International did not return RFA’s phone calls by the time of publication.

The competition invites women from over 70 different countries to compete, with a mission to promote “the knowledge and understanding of mankind to campaign to stop war and violence,” according to the company’s website. Several countries have hosted the pageant since 2016, including the United States, Vietnam and Venezuela.

In 2021, the Myanmar junta charged their country’s Miss Grand International representative with sedition after she spoke out against the army’s violence in a pageant speech. Thaw Nandar Aung, known more commonly as Han Lay, was living in Bangkok at the time of her charge, but was denied re-entry to Thailand in 2022 on her return from Vietnam.

Thai immigration told media outlets she did not have a valid visa, but the model alleged the Myanmar military canceled her passport and junta officials tried to meet with her while she was still waiting in international territory of the Bangkok airport.

Some worry contestants who speak about human rights could meet a similar fate in Myanmar during the competition.

“Even if you came to enter [as] a contestant and you are there purely for the competition, it doesn’t matter,” Sarkis said. “If they have a target on you, they can make and create anything to arrest you and ask for a ransom, create any false accusations, and do anything – your life is in the military’s hands.”

The pageant will be held on Oct. 25, 2024.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn

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