It was the typical annual pageant of glitz, beauty, and talent, except there was one person missing from this year’s Miss World competition in Sanya, China: Miss Canada.
That’s because the 25-year-old Anastasia Lin, a Canadian actress born in China, was barred from participating in the two-week romp on the southern tip of the Chinese island Hainan, where 114 beauty queens from around the world competed for the title of the world’s best.
In a Facebook post in late November, Ms. Lin wrote that she was barred from the competition by the Chinese government “for political reasons.”
“They are trying to punish me for my beliefs and prevent me from speaking out about about human rights issues,” she wrote.
Lin, who moved to Canada from China when she was 13, is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned by the Chinese government, which considers it an “evil cult.”
With its roots in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, Falun Gong was founded in 1992 as a spiritual movement that encourages ritual exercise, like qigong, and meditation to achieve mental and physical health.
By 1999, the movement had attracted 70 million followers, as the International Business Times reports, and was characterized by the Chinese government as a cult.
China, with a constitution that technically permits freedom of religious belief, has banned Falun Gong, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It says the group’s adherents use religion “as a camouflage, deifying their leading members, recruiting and controlling their members, and deceiving people by molding and spreading superstitious ideas, and endangering society.”
Lin says that standing up to the persecution of Falun Gong adherents is a mission for her. She has been an outspoken critic of the country’s communist party and a proponent of human rights, having written op-eds and testified in front of the US Congress on the topic.
“Hundreds of thousands of peaceful and law-abiding people have been imprisoned and tortured,” she wrote on Facebook, “and many have died or disappeared in custody after they refused to renounce their beliefs and swear allegiance to the Communist Party.”
“My purpose is to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Lin wrote.
Though she was eligible to participate in Miss World, having won the title of Miss Canada last May, Lin did not receive an official invitation from China to participate in the 2015 pageant. She decided to go anyway, but was barred by authorities in Hong Kong from flying on to Hainan.
In response to a query about Lin’s banishment by Canada’s Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in an e-mail statement that “China does not allow any persona non grata to come to China,” though he did not mention Lin specifically.
“Silencing a beauty queen,” wrote Lin, “is not conduct befitting an aspiring superpower – especially one that hopes to host international competitions such as Miss World and the upcoming Winter Olympics.”
The international attention Lin’s case has garnered has somewhat overshadowed a joyous occasion on Saturday for another beauty queen, the 23-year-old Mireia Lalaguna Royo, or Miss Spain. After two weeks of physical, mental, and cosmetological challenges, Lalaguna Royo beat out the rest of the international competitors for the title of Miss World 2015.
Sofia Nikitchuk of Russia was the runner-up, and Indonesia’s Maria Harfanti took third place.