Marathon Silver Medalist: If I Go Back To Ethiopia, They Might Kill Me

Marathon Silver Medalist: If I Go Back To Ethiopia, They Might Kill Me

Photo: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports
When Feyisa Lilesa crossed the line in second place in the Olympic men’s marathon, he put his arms up in an X. Ethiopians on Twitter immediately recognized that the gesture was in solidarity with the Oromo protests. Lilesa was asked about it at the press conference, and said that his gesture may cost him when he returns to Ethiopia:

Lilesa outside of the press conference: If I go back to , they will kill me. He has a wife and 2 kids at home.

The Oromo protests began when the Ethiopian government tried to clear a forest and soccer field in Oromia last year. According to Human Rights Watch:

“State security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015. Over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.”

Ethiopian political unease bubbling over into track meets is nothing new. Four Ethiopian runners defected during the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, and are now seeking asylum in the United States. Those athletes, like Lilesa, were opposed to the Ethiopian government’s treatment of Oromo people. You can watch a full LetsRun interview with Lilesa after the Olympic marathon here. In the interview, Lilesa says he may try to get a visa and move to America, and that he would be killed or jailed if he returns to Ethiopia.