Ethiopian Olympic marathoner might have put his life in danger with protest gesture


Like many other Olympic athletes in the past, Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa made a gesture Sunday night when he crossed the finish line in Rio.

But simply making the sign with his arms could have cost the silver medalist his freedom or even his life if he returns home.

He told reporters after the race: "I was protesting for my people. ... If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me. If I am not killed, maybe they will put me in prison."

Crossing one's arms over one's head as Lilesa did is a sign used by members of his Oromo tribe to protest the Ethiopian government.

Tensions between the Oromo and the government have been on the rise since last November, when the government announced plans to reallocate Oromo farmland for development.

The announcement sparked intense protests across the nation that lasted for months. 

Officials scrapped the idea in January, but demonstrations flared up once again in recent weeks over protesters who are still being detained. 

And according to a Human Rights Watch report, the government is using violence to stop the protests. The group says more than 400 people have been killed and thousands more injured.

"Oromo is my tribe ... Oromo people now protest (for) what is right, for peace, for a place," Lilesa said in a news conference after his medal ceremony.

Lilesa also said he has family members who are in prison, and "if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

Lilesa, a father of two, said that because of the violence in his home country, he can't return to Ethiopia after the Olympics. He said he might stay in Brazil or go to Kenya or the U.S. if he can.

An Ethiopian government spokesman said Monday that Lilesa could return to the country and would receive "a heroic welcome," the Associated Press reported.

It's unclear if his post-race gesture will affect his win in Rio. The Olympics committee has stripped athletes of their medals over political statements in the past.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

NY state troopers fly friend of school massacre victim to Florida for funeral
NY state troopers fly friend of school massacre victim to Florida for funeral

Two New York state troopers are being credited with an immense kindness after they paid for the flight of a young woman to Florida to say goodbye to her friend, one of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.  Jordana Judson, 23, told NBC News that she was devastated to learn that her childhood friend, Meadow Pollack...
Uber Eats driver accused of killing customer turns himself in
Uber Eats driver accused of killing customer turns himself in

An Uber Eats driver who police said shot and killed a customer turned himself in Monday afternoon. According to WSB-TV, Robert Bivens, 37, arrived at the jail with his attorney. The Atlanta Police Department's Homicide Unit secured an arrest warrant for felony murder Monday. The shooting happened Saturday night at a condominium on Pharr Road...
Fergie says NBA All-Star national anthem ‘didn’t strike the intended tone’
Fergie says NBA All-Star national anthem ‘didn’t strike the intended tone’

Fergie is responding to critics of her sultry, jazzy rendition of the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game. The singer issued a statement to TMZ, saying her version at Sunday night’s game in Los Angeles “didn't strike the intended tone.” >> Read more trending news  “I’ve always been honored and proud to...
Chrissy Teigen reveals second baby’s due date
Chrissy Teigen reveals second baby’s due date

Soon-to-be mom of two Chrissy Teigen stopped by “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to dish about her pregnancy Monday. The model and cookbook author revealed that she and singer John Legend’s second bundle of joy is due in June. >> Read more trending news  “I’m having a baby boy in the spring,” she told DeGeneres...
Florida gun owner surrenders assault rifle after Parkland high school massacre
Florida gun owner surrenders assault rifle after Parkland high school massacre

A Florida man spurred by the massacre that killed 17 people at a Parkland high school last week has “put (his) money where (his) mouth is” and surrendered his assault rifle to authorities. Ben Dickmann, 40, wrote on Friday, in a Facebook post that has since gone viral, that he decided to lead by example. “I own this rifle,&rdquo...
More Stories