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Myanmar model who criticised junta stuck in limbo after being denied entry to Thailand

Han Lay last year
Han Lay last year. The Myanmar model and critic of the country’s military takeover says she has been denied entry to Thailand. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

A Myanmar model who has spoken out against the military junta that seized power last year says she has sought help from the UN’s refugee agency after she was denied entry to Thailand.

Han Lay, who was stopped at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok this week, asked for help in a Facebook post on Thursday night, saying Myanmar police were at the airport and trying to speak with her.

She has been stuck in the transit area of the airport since Wednesday afternoon, her agent earlier told Reuters. Hanlay could not immediately be reached for comment.

Han Lay was a contestant in Miss Grand International Myanmar 2020 and has used her platform to raise awareness of the struggle for democracy in her country, where the military junta has used brutal violence to crush opposition.

On stage at a competition in Thailand in 2021, she gave an emotive speech in which she pleaded for the world to “please help Myanmar”. Han Lay struggled to fight back tears as she told the audience that, on that day alone, more than 100 pro-democracy protesters had been killed.

“I am deeply sorry for the people who have lost their lives,” she said.

Anyone in Myanmar who criticises the military regime risks arrest and imprisonment in facilities where reports of mistreatment and torture are common. More than 15,500 people have been arrested since the coup, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). This includes social media influencers and models, as well as teachers, doctors and elected politicians.

Han Lay appears to have been spending time in Thailand since the coup, but was stopped from entering the country this week after reportedly returning from Vietnam.

“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me and I will refuse to meet with the Myanmar police by using my human right!” she wrote on Facebook on Thursday night. “I reported to UNHCR already too.”

Amnesty International said on Twitter that Thailand must not return Han Lay to her country, where she is well known for having condemned the 2021 coup. “She must be allowed to settle somewhere safe, and Myanmar is not safe for her,” its statement said.

It added: “Critics of Myanmar’s military have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed in detention. These are the real risks faced by anyone who highlights, exposes and documents the appalling human rights abuses since the coup.”

Nawit Itsaragrisil, founder of Thailand’s Miss Grand International pageant, who also represents Han Lay, told Reuters she had been stopped by Thai authorities because she was the subject of an Interpol notice.

However, Thai authorities said Han Lay had been denied entry due to a problem with her travel documents and that she had not been arrested. There were no plans to deport her at this stage, Tanee Sangrat, a spokesperson for Thailand’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs told media.