Aug 21, 2016
When he crossed the Olympics marathon finish line, Feyisa Lilesa put his hands above his head in an “X.” Most of those who watched Lilesa’s spectacular silver medal performance didn’t know what that meant — or just how dangerous a protest they were watching.
Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government’s killing of hundreds of the country’s Oromo people — an ethnic majority that has long complained about being marginalized by the country’s government. The group has held protests this year over plans to reallocate Oromo land. Many of those protests ended in bloodshed. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since November.
For months, the Oromo have been using the same “X” gesture that Lilesa, 26, used at the finish line.
At a news conference following the race, he reiterated his defiant message.
“The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe,” Lilesa said. “My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”
It was a remarkable turn of events — within seconds, Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country. In addition to those killed, many Oromo protesters are currently languishing in prison.
In Ethiopia, the state broadcaster did not air a replay of the finish.
Lilesa was conscious of the danger. He immediately suggested that he might have to move somewhere else.
“If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country,” he said.
2016 Rio Olympics – Athletics – Final – Men’s Marathon – Sambodromo – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 21/08/2016. Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) of Ethiopia celebrates as he wins silver. (Photo: REUTERS)
Feyisa Lilesa, who won the silver medal in the men’s marathon at the Rio Olympics, during an award ceremony on on Sunday, August 21st, 2016. (AP photo)
Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa at the conclusion of a news conference on Sunday, August 21st, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo credit : Eshetu Homa Keno)
Feyisa Lilesa celebrates crossing the line in second place in Rio. (Photo: EPA)
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