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Thuzar Wint Lwin, Miss Universe 2020
Via Instagram/@thuzar_wintlwin

Pray for Myanmar: Miss Universe contestant speaks out on political violence

Thuzar Wint Lwin used the pageant as a platform to urge viewers to speak about her country’s deadly military coup

The representative for Myanmar at the delayed 2020 Miss Universe pageant has used the competition as a platform to speak out about the military violence in her home country. Taking to the Miss Universe stage in Florida on May 16, Thuzar Wint Lwin wore the traditional dress of Chin women in north-west Myanmar, unfurling a banner that read: “Pray for Myanmar.” 

On February 1 this year, the country’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown and detained by military forces, which have since killed more than 800 opponents, according to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Thousands more people have been detained or forced to flee their homes as fighting escalates between security forces and opposing activists, who have rallied under the banner of the Chinland Defence Force. The militia have recently retreated from the northwestern town of Mindat, they tell Reuters, out of concern for civilians.

“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” Thuzar Wint Lwin said in a video message filmed especially for the pageant. “I would like to urge everyone to speak about Myanmar.”

The contestant has also been on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, in the run-up to the pageant, protesting against the army’s brutal power grab, visiting those who have lost family, and donating money. “As Miss Universe Myanmar since the coup,” she adds, “I have been speaking out as much as I can.”

Aged 22, Thuzar Wint Lwin has also campaigned against the February coup and subsequent violence online, despite the risk of retaliation from security forces. She was determined to take her message to the Miss Universe pageant, she says via Facebook, to “let the world know of our country and how our freedom, human rights, and right to live are threatened”.

Though Thuzar Wint Lwin didn’t make it to the final round of the Miss Universe event, her plea for Myanmar was met with cheers, and she won the prize for best national costume, for her intricately woven Chin dress with a feathered crown.

Other contestants also used the competition as a way to spread political messages, including Singapore’s Bernadette Belle Ong, who wore a cape in the colours of her country’s flag, with “Stop Asian Hate” written on the reverse.

Thankfully, Thuzar Wint Lwin has found refuge in the US since her Miss Universe appearance, welcomed by the Burmese community in Indianapolis, and is set to work as a model in New York. In Myanmar, she reportedly faces an arrest warrant. Watch her appearance in traditional dress at the pageant below.