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Beauty Contestant Held in Thailand After Criticizing Myanmar Junta

Miss Grand International Myanmar 2020 Han Lay was detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday.

On March 27 last year, after the February coup, she appealed to the media in Thailand, where she had been competing in a beauty pageant, for international help to rescue Myanmar from the regime.

Since then she has been living in Thailand and speaking out against the regime. On September 18 she left for Vietnam for a visa renewal and was detained at the Thai airport on her return.

Han Lay spoke to The Irrawaddy about her arrest.

Han Lay joins an anti-regime protest in Yangon in 2021.

How were you stopped at the Thai airport?

I had been in Thailand for nearly two years and I overstayed my tourist visa. Thai immigration told me that it was easier to renew my visa if I left Thailand for a while and re-entered. I went to Vietnam without any trouble but when I arrived back at the Thai airport I was told my passport was on an Interpol list and was registered as missing.

I heard that Myanmar also alerted Vietnam that my passport was missing and that I am on the Interpol list as a wanted criminal.

I am still at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. I told the [Thai authorities] that I am not flying back to Vietnam. They can’t force me. I don’t know what they will do.

Han Lay joins an anti-regime protest in Yangon in 2021.

What did Thai authorities say? 

They want me to return to Vietnam. But my passport is registered as missing and I will be sent back to Myanmar. I cannot go to Vietnam. I insisted on staying at the airport for now as I have contacted the [United Nations refugee agency] UNHCR. It contacted Thai immigration and reported the case to the Thai government.

How are you being treated at the airport?

I was taken to the airport detention center. Now they know my identity I am allowed to stay freely. But I can’t go anywhere. They seized my passport and tail me.

Miss Grand International Myanmar 2020 Han Lay

Were detained because the regime named you a criminal?

Myanmar’s police reported me [to the Thai authorities] and put me on the Interpol list. I have been in Thailand for nearly 18 months and have been allowed to renew my visa regularly.

What charge has the regime filed against you?

It charged me with high treason under Article 121 [of the Penal Code] and stuck a search warrant to my house.

What are your plans?

I hope the UNCHR can help as it seems to be the only agency that protects refugees from hostile states, no matter where I go, despite the Interpol list. I committed no crime.

Miss Grand International Myanmar 2020 Han Lay

Did you expect this after speaking up?

I am angry about the Interpol list. I don’t like human rights violations and so I condemned them. I thought they would issue an arrest warrant in Myanmar at the most. I thought I could go to other countries even if I can’t go back to Myanmar.

I am not going back to Myanmar. I will be in danger. I will wait for help from the UNHCR. Maybe I can stay in Thailand or another country.

How was your life in Thailand?

Miss Grand International C [the pageant organizer] provided my accommodation and food since the contest. They gave me a job at their office around two months ago to help manage pageant contestants. They have also contacted the Thai government to help me.

How will detention affect your beliefs?