Burmese goalkeeper who greeted protest chooses to stay in Japan

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Pyae Lyan Aung, a backup goalkeeper for the Myanmar national team who raised a three-fingered salute during a 2022 World Cup qualifier in late May, arrives at Kansai International Airport in Kansai Prefecture. ‘Osaka, Japan, June 16, 2021 (Kyodo)

OSAKA (Kyodo) – A Myanmar soccer team goalkeeper who raised a three-fingered salute to protest the country’s military coup in a World Cup qualifier in Japan said on Thursday he had chosen not to return home and would seek refugee status.

Pyae Lyan Aung, 27, told reporters at Kansai Airport in Osaka Prefecture that he had decided to stay in Japan because his “life would be in danger” if he returned home.

The player, 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 officials at the airport that he wanted to stay at the airport. Japan. He spoke to reporters in the early hours of Thursday.

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

During the match between Japan and Myanmar in the city of Chiba near Tokyo, Pyae Lyan Aung raised three fingers of his right hand with “WE NEED JUSTICE” written on them in English as the Myanmar national anthem was played.

The salute has often been used as a show of resistance in this Southeast Asian country to the February 1 military coup, which toppled the democratically elected government. The images have gone viral on social media.

Speaking to reporters through a Burmese interpreter, Pyae Lyan Aung expressed concern for the safety of other players and their families, saying the military had visited his home in Myanmar.

Calling on Japan for the continued support of the Burmese people at the airport, the athlete again gave a three-fingered salute.

He said he almost gave up on informing immigration authorities of his decision to stay in Japan, but drew on all his reserves of courage at the last moment during boarding procedures.

In recent online interviews with Kyodo News, Pyae Lyan Aung said he wanted to return home when the government led by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi returns to power.

The Justice Ministry said in May it would allow Myanmar residents who wish to stay in Japan to extend their stay as a matter of urgency. The measure also covers people from Myanmar who apply for refugee status in Japan.

Pyae Lyan Aung said in interviews that he planned the protest ahead of his arrival for the game against Japan because he believed it would send a strong message to the international community.

He also criticized the Burmese army for shooting civilians during protests, comparing them to “slaughtering chickens”.

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

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

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

As of Wednesday, 865 people had been killed by Burmese security forces since the coup, with more than 4,900 others in detention, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, a rights group that tracks the deaths. and arrests in the country.

Suu Kyi and other political figures are among the detainees.


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