Among them was Myanmar’s own Han Lay, who watched in horror from her Bangkok hotel quarantine as reports showed junta forces slaughtering peaceful protesters on the streets of her homeland.
On March 11 she spoke out, appearing on camera in quarantine wearing a dress embroidered with an image of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former leader who has been detained by the military since it seized power on February 1.
“I share the same indescribable sadness and sorrow as each and every one of us in Myanmar,” said Han Lay, praising the bravery of protesters – especially the women – who were being gunned down. “We must win the revolution,” she added, sobbing.
Fast forward to Saturday night, Han Lay found herself under the spotlight on the Miss Grand International stage in Bangkok as news came from across the border of the bloodiest day in the crackdown so far, with at least 114 people killed protesting against the coup.
Breaking the unwritten rule of beauty pageants – “no politics” – Han Lay stepped up to the microphone once more to make a tearful plea to the world.
“Today in my country, Myanmar, while I am going to be on this stage, there are so many people dying, more than 100 people died today. I am deeply sorry for all the people who have lost their lives.” She demanded democracy, as well as justice, for her Myanmar compatriots, in a speech that made headlines around the globe.
In response, Miss Grand International organiser Nawat Itsaragrisil told reporters he had taken Myanmar’s contestant under his care. Pointing out she could not return home as Myanmar airports were closed, he contacted the Immigration Bureau seeking permission for Han Lay to stay in Thailand.
Nawat added that it was his humanitarian duty to help Han Lay.
On Wednesday, the Myanmar beauty queen spoke up again during a press conference.
“Before I came here, I was protesting … we want democracy right now. We are fighting for our people. So many people have died in Myanmar. That’s the reason why we [protesters] try to fight more and more.”
Han Lay also pleaded for international intervention to halt the crisis engulfing her homeland.
“Right now, citizens in Myanmar cannot stop the military. Now we are calling for help from the international community. We need the UN’s help right now.
“In Myanmar, all citizens are in a dangerous situation. I need to be worried about my country’s future, and the new generation’s future. And I am only the one who can contact the international [world] right now because I am in another country.
“I need to be strong for my family, for my people in Myanmar.”