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Myanmar goalkeeper Pyae Lyan Aung sought to stay in Japan rather than return home. Photo: TBS News

Myanmar goalkeeper Pyae Lyan Aung seeks refugee status in Japan after displaying three-fingered protest salute

  • While in Japan, the player displayed the three-fingered protest salute, which has become a symbol of opposition to the military junta since the February 1 coup
  • Pyae Lyan Aung travelled to Japan with the national team and on Wednesday told immigration authorities at the airport he did not want to return home

A goalkeeper for Myanmar’s soccer team who raised a three-fingered salute in protest at the military coup in the country during a World Cup qualifying match in Japan on Thursday said he has chosen not to return home and will apply for refugee status.

Pyae Lyan Aung, 27, told reporters at Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture that he has decided to stay in Japan as his “life would be at risk” if he returns home.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the February 1 coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, sparking huge protests and renewed clashes between the military and ethnic rebel armies in border regions.

As of Wednesday, 865 people had been killed by Myanmar’s security forces since the coup, with more than 4,900 others in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group that keeps track of deaths and arrests in the country. Suu Kyi and other prominent politicians are among those in detention.

Pyae Lyan Aung, who came on as a substitute in the May 28 game, was supposed to return home with his teammates on Wednesday night, but he told immigration authorities at the airport that he wanted to stay in Japan. He spoke to reporters on Thursday.
Myanmar played Japan on May 28. Photo: Facebook

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular press conference that the government “would like to respond properly by listening to his wishes”.

At the match between Japan and Myanmar in Chiba city near Tokyo, Pyae Lyan Aung raised three fingers of his right hand with “We need justice” written on them in English while Myanmar’s national anthem was played.

The salute has frequently been used as a show of resistance in the Southeast Asian country to the February military coup. The footage went viral on social media.

“After confirming his wishes, we will proceed with procedures to seek refugee status either in Osaka or in Tokyo,” his lawyer Shogo Watanabe said.

“It’s obvious [that he is a political refugee] after he made the three-finger salute... I hope his refugee status will be recognised as soon as possible.”

Speaking to reporters through a Myanmar interpreter, Pyae Lyan Aung expressed concerns over the safety of other players and their families, saying the military has visited his home in Myanmar.

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Calling for Japan’s continued support for the people of Myanmar at the airport, the athlete again flashed a three-fingered salute.

He said that he had almost given up on telling immigration authorities of his decision to stay in Japan but drew on all his reserves of courage at the last moment while undergoing embarkation procedures.

In online interviews, Pyae Lyan Aung said he wants to return home when the government led by civilian leader Suu Kyi returns to power.

Japan’s Justice Ministry in May said it would allow Myanmar residents who wish to remain in Japan to extend their stays as an emergency step. The measure also covers people from Myanmar seeking refugee status in Japan.


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Pyae Lyan Aung said he had planned the protest before his arrival for the match against Japan because he believed it would send out a strong message to the international community.

He also criticised the Myanmar military for firing on civilians during protests, comparing it to “slaughtering chickens”.

“I would like the Japanese government and the international community to support us so we can restore justice and a fair society,” Pyae Lyan Aung said.


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Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters get combat training in jungle to fight military junta

Japan has longstanding ties with Myanmar and has described itself as the country’s largest provider of economic assistance.

Following the coup, Tokyo froze new aid to Myanmar and the foreign minister has warned even existing projects could be halted if the military junta continues to use violence against protesters.

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The Japan-Myanmar soccer match, a preliminary qualifier for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, was initially scheduled for March but was postponed following the coup. It was Myanmar’s first international game since the takeover.

The team played two further games in Japan before leaving, against the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, with the final six fixtures in Group F of the Asian qualifiers having been moved to Japan. Pyae Lyan Aung remained a member of the squad.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse