• Kyodo

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A Myanmar national soccer goalkeeper applied for refugee status in Japan on Tuesday after expressing fear for his life for giving a three-finger salute in protest at the military coup in his country during a recent World Cup qualifier near Tokyo, his lawyer said.

Pyae Lyan Aung, who refused to return home with his teammates last week after the football match, submitted an application with the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau, according to the lawyer.

During the match between Japan and Myanmar in Chiba in late May, the goalkeeper, who came on as a substitute, raised three fingers of his right hand with “WE NEED JUSTICE” written on them in English while Myanmar’s national anthem was being played. The salute has been used as a show of resistance in Myanmar to the Feb. 1 coup.

After the game, he told immigration authorities at Kansai Airport that he wanted to remain in Japan and that he had decided not to board his flight.

His move comes despite Japan’s reputation for granting refugee status to only a small fraction of applicants.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Friday that Japan would “appropriately handle Myanmar people in light of changes in the situation (in their country),” but declined to comment on a specific case.

The Justice Ministry has said 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.

On Sunday, the 27-year-old soccer player visited a Buddhist temple in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, and prayed for peace in his home country.

“I shed tears as I recalled my memories of my home country. I want to meet my family,” he told reporters. “I prayed that peace will be realized as soon as possible.

“I want Japanese people to help Myanmar people trying to escape repression as much as they can.”

The coup ousted the democratically elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and put her under house arrest, while other prominent politicians were also detained, fueling protests across the Southeast Asian nation.

As of Monday, 873 people including peaceful protesters had been killed by the junta, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group tracking deaths and detainees in Myanmar.

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