Addis Ababa (HAN) August 30.2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. Ethiopian marathon runner, Feyisa Lelisa has said that more athletes who get the opportunity to compete on the global stage need to speak out against the persecution of the Oromo people in his country.
In an interview with German broadcaster,Deutsche Welle, Lelisa called on more athletes to heed his example and speak out against the crimes against his people in Ethiopia.
The Olympian,who finished in second place in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics said that he was in a good condition and was thankful that his protest gesture had attracted so much attention globally.
He added that his application to seek asylum in the US was progressing well and that he would in the meantime remain in Rio de Janeiro.
Lelisa encourage the Oromo people to also continue their protests against the marginalisation suffered at the hands of the Ethiopian government as they needed to finish what they started.
Following Lelisa’s courageous protest aGoFundMe, initiative was launched by supporters dedicated to the Olympian and his family, that within a matter of days raised nearly $130 000 from over 2 200 supporters.
Lilesa made an anti-government gesture as he crossed the finishing line in second place and repeated it at the medal ceremony in support of the Oromo protests in Ethiopia.
In what is considered as the country’s worst unrest in over a decade, the Oromo tribe started protesting in 2015 November against the government’s plan to reallocate farmland.
Lilesa told the BBC that he feared for his life if he were to return to the country of his birth with violent attacks on the rise in recent weeks. He added that he was in contact with his wife and family who were in the capital, Addis Ababa.
‘I was very scared’
The family of the Olympic runner said that they immediately feared for his life after witnessing his gesture on TV against the government.
“I was very scared at the time but I wasn’t surprised because I know him. He was burning inside when he sees on social media all these dead bodies… people being beaten and people being arrested. So I was not surprised because I know he had a lot of anger inside,” Lilesa’s wife, Iftu said.
His mother also warned that the government’s promise to safeguard Lelisa and encourage his return could not be trusted and advised him to stay in Rio de Janeiro for his safety.
Ethiopia’s government vowed that Lilesa had nothing to fear upon returning home after staging the protest against the country’s politics.
A government spokesperson said that although it was impossible to express a political stance at the Olympic Games, the athlete would be welcomed while returning home alongwith other members of the Ethiopian Olympic squad.