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Pageant Silences Beauty Queen, a Critic of China, at a U.S. Contest

The New York Times logo The New York Times 14/12/2016 ANDREW JACOBS
Anastasia Lin in Toronto last year. The Chinese authorities later blocked her from attending the Miss World pageant in China. © Ian Willms for The New York Times Anastasia Lin in Toronto last year. The Chinese authorities later blocked her from attending the Miss World pageant in China.

After the Chinese authorities blocked the Canadian beauty queen Anastasia Lin from attending the 65th annual Miss World pageant in China last year, the event’s British organizers offered her a consolation prize, of sorts: They promised to allow her a chance to compete in the 2016 finals, which are currently underway in suburban Washington.

What they did not tell her was that she could smile but not speak out publicly during the event, which is largely sponsored by Chinese companies.

Over the past three weeks, as she and her fellow contestants have rehearsed for Tuesday’s finale, Ms. Lin, 26 — an actress, classically trained pianist and outspoken critic of Chinese human rights abuses — has been barred from speaking to the news media, friends and relatives said.

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They said that officials with the London-based pageant have also refused to allow Ms. Lin to attend the American premiere of a movie in which she appears. The film, “The Bleeding Edge,” has angered Beijing with its dramatization of what human rights advocates describe as government-sanctioned programs that harvest the organs of Chinese prisoners of conscience.

And last week, when a State Department official requested a meeting with Ms. Lin, to discuss the continuing harassment of her father in China, pageant executives refused to let her go, a State Department official said. They only relented after Ms. Lin agreed to be accompanied by a pageant employee, who insisted on attending the meeting. The chaperone later turned down a State Department request to post a photo of the meeting on Twitter.

Jacob Walleberg, a friend who has spoken to Ms. Lin by phone, said pageant employees warned her that she would be ejected from the competition if she spoke to reporters. “They have specifically told her not to talk about human rights during the pageant, even though that is her official platform,” he said. “She is very frustrated.”

The Miss World organization declined to answer questions about the restrictions they have placed on Ms. Lin, but friends say they have little doubt about its motivations: Pageant officials, they said, are simply doing the bidding of the Chinese government, which has spent the last year trying to silence Ms. Lin, who was born in China but emigrated to Canada at 13.

Since 2003, the Miss World pageant has been held six times in Sanya, a tropical city in southern China, and Chinese companies have become the main sponsors of the decades-old competition. The local government has spent $31 million to upgrade infrastructure for the competition, according to the Chinese media.

Last year, after the Chinese authorities refused to issue Ms. Lin a visa to attend the finals, she flew to Hong Kong, hoping to obtain a visa at the border. She was turned away, and her photo disappeared from the pageant’s official website. “Why is a powerful country like China so afraid of a beauty queen?” she said at the time.

Beijing’s efforts to silence Ms. Lin appear to have had the opposite effect. In the year since she was barred from the competition, she has been invited to speak at Oxford University, the National Press Club in Washington and the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Ms. Lin has been especially outspoken on the repression of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned in mainland China. Ms. Lin is a practitioner of Falun Gong, which the Chinese government has deemed “an evil cult.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch, said that Beijing’s attempt to muzzle Ms. Lin highlighted its increasingly aggressive campaign to shape global public opinion about a government that takes a dim view of Western-style liberties.

“Whether it’s choosing what movies you get to see or what information can be censored online, Chinese authorities are increasingly trying to insist that the restrictions they impose at home become the norm abroad,” she said. “That they deem it necessary to try to manipulate international beauty pageants would be puzzling or quirky if it weren’t indicative of a far more serious pathology.”

In Ms. Lin’s case, the attempted manipulation has taken a sinister turn. In an earlier interview, she described how public security officials harassed her father, the owner of a medical supply company in China, and forced customers to withdraw their business, pushing him into bankruptcy. Family members said Chinese officials had also refused to allow him to travel to Washington for the finals.

The Miss World Organization has been aggressive in its effort to prevent reporters from speaking to Ms. Lin. Two weeks ago, pageant officials interrupted an interview she was giving to Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, in the lobby of the Maryland hotel where the contestants are staying. “Two of them hustled Lin from the lobby, angrily accusing her of breaching the rules and causing trouble,” he wrote. “The third blocked me from talking to Lin, and assured me that my interview would be scheduled the next day. It wasn’t, of course.”

Such restrictions apparently do not apply to the Chinese media. Over the past few weeks, reporters from two Chinese media outlets have been given free rein to interview contestants.

“You’d expect this kind of thing if it were taking place in China, but for her to be silenced in Washington is extraordinary,” said Benedict Rogers, the deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in the United Kingdom and a friend of Ms. Lin’s who has spoken to her by phone. “It’s all very alarming.”

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