TORONTO – Anastasia Lin is an actress who believes her outspoken advocacy of human rights in her native China played a big role in her winning bid in May to become Canada's contestant in the Miss World pageant.
But then the host country for the global beauty pageant was changed from Australia to China, and now the Communist country appears to have singled Lin out among the contestants and is stalling over her visa application. As a result, Canada may not be represented at all in the pageant on Dec. 19 in Sanya, China.
Ike Lalji, the chief executive of Miss World Canada, said he assured officials at the pageant's London headquarters that Lin would focus on the competition and not go out of her way to draw attention to her involvement in Falun Gong, a spiritual group outlawed in China.
"She's not going to do anything crazy over there that's going to upset the government of China," he said. "Our whole approach is to do it peacefully. If anything is going to happen, it's going to happen in a very civilized way."
However, as a vocal supporter of Falun Gong, Lin is almost certain to be denied entry into China, with no formal reason provided.
China outlawed Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999 and allows no public discussion of the movement or alleged human rights abuses connected with its suppression. Chinese law allows for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone suspected of supporting or propagating religious movements not officially approved by the state.
The spiritual and mediation group attracted millions of adherents before being outlawed as a threat to social stability. Followers say China's crackdown has cost the lives of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners. Beijing denies that.
Lin, 25, said that if she's allowed to go she'll continue to speak out for Falun Gong.
"I'm in the Miss World contest. I'm not going to do anything irrational, that's non-peaceful," she said. But she pointedly added, "I am going to speak my mind, that's for sure."
"I'm going back to China for the Chinese people," Lin said. "I want them to have hope and see that someone else outside is fighting for their freedom. I guess that's what they are most afraid of."
Lin, who moved to Canada when she was 13, has been anything but shy about her beliefs. Two months after winning the Canadian pageant, she testified at a U.S. congressional hearing about religious persecution in China. She also plays an imprisoned Falun Gong practitioner in an upcoming Canadian movie, "The Bleeding Edge."
Messages left at the Chinese Embassy in Canada were not returned. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing was asked Tuesday whether he had any updates on allegations that China was denying Miss Canada access to the event, and declined to comment. "Currently, I have no information to give you," spokesman Hong Lei said.
Lin said her father in China has already come under pressure from authorities there. She said he was proud of her becoming Miss World Canada but soon urged her to stop her human rights advocacy or he would have to sever contact with her. Canada's government has voiced concern about alleged harassment of her family in China.
Lin said she hasn't received a letter she needs for the visa from the host city's government, and that all the other contestants received them on Oct. 30. "I'm the only person that I know of who hasn't received it."
Lalji, the Canadian pageant chief, said Canada won't send the first runner-up to China if Lin doesn't get a visa because it would be too late, noting training is scheduled to start on Nov. 21. He said Lin could be a few days late, however.
Miss World confirmed the pageant has also not received a letter from the Chinese government for Lin. Its legal department said in a statement the pageant will go on if Lin is not granted a visa.
"We do not have any control over who is issued a visa," the statement 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."
Francois Lasalle, a spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs department, said the ministry cannot comment on China's visa decisions, adding that the promotion of human rights remains a priority in its relationship with China.
Lin believes she won the Canadian pageant in large part because of her activism.
"The judges were resonating with my message that I tried to do this for the people who can't speak up for themselves," she said.
Lalji granted that "maybe a small part" of why she won was her stance on human rights but noted there are 12 competitions and different judges for each competition.
"The judges didn't just choose her just because of her cause," he said. "She basically did well on everything."