A Myanmar national soccer goalkeeper plans to apply for refugee status in Japan later this month, his lawyer said Thursday after the goalie expressed fear for his life for making a three-finger salute in protest against the military coup in Myanmar during a recent match.
In a press conference in Osaka with the lawyer, Pyae Lyan Aung, 27, was firm about his decision not to return home with his teammates, saying, "I think I did the right thing. I have no regrets."
Pyae Lyan Aung, who came on as a substitute in the May 28 game, was supposed to fly back home with his teammates on Wednesday night, but he told immigration authorities at Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, that he wanted to stay in the country.
He cited fear of detention and "no guarantee of life" as reasons for refusing to return home.
Pyae Lyan Aung said that while he had planned the protest before his arrival for the match against Japan, he had not thought as far as refusing to return home.
"This is the first time I've been to Japan, and I don't speak Japanese. So I do feel worried and anxious about being in an unfamiliar environment," he said. "I'm worried about the safety of my family and teammates."
He added that military-ruled Myanmar should not participate in the Tokyo Olympics starting next month because it "is not a peaceful country."
At the match between Japan and Myanmar in Chiba 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 Feb. 1 military coup, which ousted the democratically elected government led by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The footage went viral on social media.
Speaking to reporters through a Myanmar interpreter in the early hours of Thursday, Pyae Lyan Aung 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 Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular press conference that the government "would like to respond properly by listening to his wishes."
In Thursday's press conference, lawyer Yoshihiro Sorano said Pyae Lyan Aung entered Japan in late May with a 90-day visa, meaning that he can stay in the country legally until late August.
Sorano expressed confidence that authorities, likely the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau, will grant his client refugee status in Japan.
In recent online interviews with Kyodo News, Pyae Lyan Aung criticized the Myanmar military for firing on civilians during protests like they were "slaughtering chickens," and said he wants to return home when the democratic government returns to power.
The Justice Ministry said in May it will 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.
"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.
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 Kyrgyzstan 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.
As of Wednesday, 865 people had been killed by Myanmar's security forces since the coup, with over 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.