Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Beauty pageants are notorious for contestants seemingly caring about nothing but 'world peace' and 'complete harmony'. Miss Grand Myanmar Han Lay's response at the Miss Grand pageant in Thailand last week was also — you guessed it — about world peace. But along with world peace, she also took the opportunity to bring attention to her home country's ongoing democratic struggle and the atrocities committed by the state's military.

"Today in my country Myanmar ... there are so many people dying," she said. "Please help Myanmar. We need your urgent international help right now."

Just a week prior, Lay was on the bloody streets of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city — where she's also a student at a university — protesting against the military and for a democratic revolution. Early in February 2021, when the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy party was in power — having won in the November 2020 general elections — the military seized control of the state, using "election fraud" as an illegitimate excuse. Bizarrely enough, part of this coup d'état was caught on tape, in the background of an oblivious fitness instructor performing her routine.

“While I am standing here on this stage, more than 100 people have died. I am saddened for the loss of the lives of these people,” Lay said in her speech.

The 22-year-old was visibly shaken by the events that have unfolded in her country over the past two months, finding it difficult to control her emotions or keep her tears from rolling. She added, “The people in Myanmar have taken to the streets to fight for democracy. I too want to see democracy in the country. Please help Myanmar."

Having made her statement in Bangkok, Lay decided to remain there for the near future out of the fear of being arrested, killed, or both. Her fears are not irrational. Just last week, the government in Myanmar issued arrest warrants against 18 celebrities, social media influencers, and two journalists, under a law against all material "intended to cause a member of the armed forces to mutiny or disregard their duty". All of them had been openly critical of the government.