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The Canadian Beauty Queen Who Is Taking On China's Human Rights Record

Anastasia Lin, an activist and actress with credits in movies and TV shows about human rights abuses in China, has been speaking her mind on behalf of religious minorities in her native country.

by Tamara Khandaker
Nov 13 2015, 7:45pm

Image via YouTube

Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin suspects she's landed in the Chinese government's bad books.

The activist and actress, with credits in movies and TV shows about human rights abuses in China, has been speaking her mind on behalf of religious minorities in her native country since winning the crown this spring. In July, the 25-year-old — an adopter of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice with elements of Buddhism that has been banned in China — denounced religious persecution by the communist regime at a US congressional hearing. 

And now, she thinks she's being punished — and could miss the Miss World finals in Sanya next month as a result.

Lin hasn't received an invitation letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, which she needs in order to apply for a travel visa by November 20 — the cutoff to make it in time for the competition.

"Considering the fact that all the rest of the contestants have received the letter of invitation and not Anastasia Lin, we are concerned," Miss World Canada said in a statement. "There might still be the possibility the letter is delayed."

Lin says the Chinese government commonly uses the tactic of not issuing visas to silence journalists and academics who criticize them, and that her case is no different. Just this week, Amnesty International released a report that detailed disturbing allegations of the beatings and torture of human rights lawyers, government opponents, activists, and Falun Gong believers by Chinese security agents. Spiked rods, iron torture chairs and electric batons are among the tools used, the report claimed. 

Lin heard stories of threats, beatings, and arrests first hand from practitioners of Falun Gong and other religious minorities while preparing for various movie roles, and it moved her to speak up.

"I'd worked with victims because I was going to act their stories out," she said. "I felt what they were feeling in China very intimately because I was trying to imitate that.

"It just got to me one day. It's got to stop because it's so sad."

She recalled advice she'd received years earlier from former Miss World Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who had told her the contest was the perfect platform to get a message out.

She wasn't always as sensitive to the plight of Falun Gong practitioners, though. As a student leader in China, she was recruited to help spread government propaganda and teach her peers about why Falun Gong was dangerous, she says.

It was only after arriving in Canada at the age of 13 and learning more with the help of her mother, that she began to question the teachings.

"I didn't think twice about what the government was telling students, and at that time, I thought it was a glorious thing I was doing," she said.

Thus far, it's been her father who lives in China who has borne the brunt of the fallout. Shortly after she won the title, a series of text messages left Lin concerned for his safety.

"Before I won the crown, he was cool with all the human rights work," she said. He told her to tone it down slightly. "But after I won the crown, a few days later, he sent me this text message saying, 'You've got to stop — otherwise my family might have consequences.'"

If she didn't cease her political activities immediately, they'd have to go their separate ways, he told her. When she pressed him for further details, he simply asked her never to bring it up in conversation again. Fearing for his life, Lin decided to make the threats public.

"If you keep silent, they might use this tactic to keep manipulating, and they might go even further," she said.

Miss World Canada says they're in contact with the principals of the organization in London, and that they're trying to make the trip possible.

"We have assured that Anastasia Lin's focus will be the competition and she [has] no intention to cause any controversy when she is in China," said the statement.

But Lin says Miss World and other organizations could stop the Chinese government "bullying people like this" by simply pulling their events out of the country.

She's especially disappointed by the lack of help from the Canadian federal government. In an emailed statement, Canada's department of foreign affairs said while they couldn't comment on Chinese visa decisions and that "it is the sole prerogative of every country or territory to determine who is allowed to enter or exit," the promotion and protection of human rights is a priority in Canada's relationship with China.

"This is not a problem of sovereignty. This is a matter of principle," said Lin. "I'm a Canadian speaking my own mind within Canadian borders. This is a foreign government's action to stifle my voice in my own country." 

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk