Model who criticized Myanmar’s military fears repatriation

BANGKOK (AP) – A Myanmar model who denounced her country’s military rulers at a beauty pageant in Thailand last year said she fears she will be forced home.

Thaw Nandar Aung, also known as Han Lay, told The Associated Press by phone that she has been detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport since she was denied return to Thailand when she arrived Wednesday night from a short trip to Vietnam. She has lived in Thailand, but had to leave and re-enter the country to extend her stay.

She said she met on Friday with representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency to prevent her from being returned to Myanmar, where she fears severe penalties from the military government. she has criticized.

People denied entry into Thailand are usually deported to their last point of departure, but the UN agency advised her to be arrested in Vietnam and then repatriated to Myanmar.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat confirmed in a text message that Thaw Nandar Aung was refused entry to Thailand “due to a problem with her travel document”.

“The relevant authorities have not made any arrests and do not intend to send her anywhere at this stage,” he said.

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Myanmar’s military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 and has cracked down on widespread opposition to his rule. It used deadly force to crack down on demonstrations and has arrested critics, including actors and other celebrities, under various laws with possible sentences ranging from three years in prison to death. In July, authorities executed four activists who were accused of involvement in terrorist activities.

Thaw Nandar Aung said she was charged in absentia in September last year under a section of Myanmar’s penal code that deals with sedition for speaking out against the military takeover during the election and online. The statute criminalizes attempts to “incite hatred or contempt, or incite or attempt to incite displeasure against the government” and the military or its personnel, and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

She said that when she arrived in Bangkok, Thai immigration authorities entered her name into their online database and then asked her if she had reported that her passport was missing in Vietnam, to which she replied ‘no’. She said they then showed her a screen that they said had an Interpol Red Notice out in front of her, meaning the police of a member state had asked for her to be detained.

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Whether Interpol made such a statement could not be immediately confirmed. However, Myanmar’s military government has unilaterally revoked the passports of many of its main opponents in an effort to curtail their activities.

On Thursday evening, Thai police told her that Myanmar police had come to visit her, but she refused to meet them, Thaw Nandar Aung said.

Thaw Nandar Aung used her platform as the Myanmar contestant at last year’s Miss Grand International beauty pageant in the Thai capital, Bangkok, to speak out about the killings of pro-democracy protesters in her home country.

“Every citizen of the world wants the prosperity of his country and the peaceful environment,” she said. “The leaders involved should not use their power and selfishness in doing so.”

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“Today in my country, Myanmar, as I stand on this podium, there are so many people dying, more than 100 people died today. I deeply feel sorry for all the people who have lost their lives,” she said, pausing frequently to fight back the tears.

She added: “I want to say here please help Myanmar. We now need your urgent international assistance.”

Thaw Nandar Aung said she was optimistic after meeting with representatives of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that she would not be returned to Myanmar. She said they told her they were working as soon as possible to find her a country where she could get asylum, possibly in a few days.

Meanwhile, she has to stay in a room in the departures area of ​​the international section of the airport, with Thai government guards, she said.

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