Miss Canada uses beauty pageant to fight China on human rights

Miss World contestant, Anastassia Lin. Photo by AP, Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Canadian Press.

Anastasia Lin says when she first learned about allegations the Chinese government was harvesting organs from religious prisoners to fuel its transplant industry, she decided to use an unconventional platform to raise awareness.

Lin spoke out about the alleged plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China while taking part in the 2015 Miss World Canada beauty pageant, which she won.

Since then, she has become an outspoken critic of the Chinese government.

"To not do anything is just so wrong," said Lin, 26, who is based in Toronto but spent her teenage years in Vancouver after emigrating from China with her mother.

"Public pressure works. We have way more leverage than we think we do," she said. "We might think that China is this big, tough bully that just doesn't listen to anyone. But that's not true."

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that emerged in China in the early 1990s, but by the end of the decade it had prompted a crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party.

Falun Gong spokesman Joel Chipkar alleges the persecution was prompted by the organization's unwillingness to cede control to the Chinese government.

Reports from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have emerged of thousands of imprisoned Falun Gong followers being executed for their body organs.

Multiple requests for comment to the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa and the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver went unanswered. But Fang Hong, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told The Associated Press last week in a story about Lin that the allegations of the Chinese government harvesting organs are "sheer fabrications of the Falun Gong cult."

Lin said she was originally inspired to take a stand on the issue by the advocacy work of former Miss World Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who is married to former federal attorney general Peter MacKay.

In 2015, Lin was declared persona non grata by the Chinese government and barred from entering China when she tried to travel there to represent Canada in that year's Miss World pageant.

Miss World 2016 took place in Washington, D.C., and this year Lin was able to take part.

"My one goal was not the tiara," Lin said. "I just wanted to be on Chinese television. ... If they can see me on stage they will know (I have not given up), so neither should they."

She also wanted to be seen by her father, who she said has been barred from leaving China because of her activism.

Miss World 2016 wrapped up last weekend, with the contestant from Puerto Rico taking the crown.

Chipkar, a Toronto-based spokesman for Falun Gong, applauded Lin for helping shed light on the organ-harvesting allegations.

"Any awareness to these crimes is like a light bulb that comes on in a dark room," Chipkar said. "As soon as the light comes on, the darkness disappears."

Chipkar said there has never been any communication between Lin and the Falun Gong organization.

As for Lin, she said she isn't interested in competing in any more beauty pageants. Instead, she wants to focus on her acting career and continue her advocacy through that medium.

"I think art is really ultimately what touches the heart, and I'm very encouraged by that," she said.

"I'm not a politician or a human rights activist by nature. I'm really just not an activist, but art is such a powerful way to get your message across."

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