A 25-year-old actress and outspoken human rights advocate who won the title of Miss World Canada says the Chinese hosts of the pageant's global finals are refusing to provide the paperwork necessary for her to obtain a visa to participate in the beauty contest next month.
Anastasia Lin, who emigrated to Canada as a teenager and lives in Toronto, said that to receive a visa, Chinese immigration authorities required her and a number of other contestants to obtain an invitation letter from the local Chinese partners involved in organizing the Dec. 19 pageant in the southern city of Sanya.
But while all other contestants who requested such letters have received them, she has not, though she already has a plane ticket purchased for a flight that departs Nov. 20. "I sort of expected there would be some kind of trouble," Lin said in a telephone interview Monday. "This is definitely not just an administrative error."
Lin has taken on roles in films and TV shows that highlight religious persecution and corruption in China. In one production, she played a Falun Gong adherent imprisoned and tortured in a Chinese labor camp. She said this summer that after she won the Miss World Canada crown, her father, who still lives in China, was harassed by state security officers.
Despite repeated phone calls and emails to the Miss World Organization, headquartered in Britain, to intervene on her behalf, Lin said she has received no definitive response.
Jai Gillman-Smith, legal counsel for the Miss World Organization, confirmed that the pageant had "received no letter from the foreign affairs department for Anastasia Lin" to facilitate travel to China. "We do not know what is in a contestant's background that would cause their visa applications to be rejected," he added, but "we do not have any control over who is issued a visa."
Miss World should relocate the pageant finals if the visa issue cannot be resolved, Lin said, and is urging supporters to contact the organization to exert pressure. "I think if Miss World threatened to leave China, they would have to give it to me," she said.
"This is not just about me – it is a matter of principle," she said. "China is also trying to silence academics and journalists by denying them visas. This has been going on for a long time.
"I want to be able to go to China, and I want Chinese people to see my face [on TV] speaking up for them," she added. "It's not wrong to stay true to one's conscience."
Gillman-Smith said this would not be the first time a contestant has been unable to participate in the finals because of visa issues.
"When Miss World was held in the London last year, there were several contestants who were not eligible for a U.K. visa and therefore they were unable to take part," he said. "If we cancel or move the show each time a visa was not granted for a contestant then it would be impossible to plan the event. This is why it is a condition of entry to Miss World that each contestant is eligible for a visa to the host country."
The Miss World contest is one of the longest-running international beauty pageants, dating to the 1950s.
China has hosted the finals seven times, including this year, since 2003. Six of the seven times the gathering was held in Sanya, on the island of Hainan, which styles itself as China's Hawaii. The pageant has been credited with significantly boosting tourism to the area.
This is not the first time the Miss World pageant has been embroiled in controversy. In 2002, the pageant was slated to be held in Abuja, Nigeria, but contestants came under pressure to pull out after an Islamic court sentenced a 31-year-old Nigerian woman to death by stoning after she was raped and had a child out of wedlock.
Organizers pressed on with the Nigeria show, but had to abandon those plans and relocate the event to London after riots by Muslim youths opposed to the pageant left scores of people dead.
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