The Sad Reason This Marathon Runner Doesn't Want to Return To His Home Country

August 22nd 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Olympic marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa won a silver medal for Ethiopia on Sunday, but that's not the reason the whole world is talking about him today. Lilesa made a political gesture that he said could put his family in jail or get him killed.

At the finish line of the marathon event, Lilesa put his hands up over his head to form an "X," a sign for resistance against the Ethiopian government, according to Deadspin.

Lilesa belongs to the Oromos, an ethnic group he said the government is persecuting because most politicians are from the opposing Tigrayan ethnic group. The Oromo are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group and they traditionally subsist through agriculture; they've been at odds with the Ethiopian government as officials push toward an industrial and manufacturing economy.

The Guardian reports:

"Dissatisfaction with corruption, maladministration and inadequate consultations on investments are fueling dissent. This patchwork of grievances presents a fundamental challenge to an authoritarian government aiming to rapidly transform Ethiopia from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse. And the discontent is a national issue."

More than 400 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and government security forces since November, according to Human Rights Watch. Supporters have set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for Lilesa's asylum application and to support his family members who are still in Ethiopia.

After he made the gesture, Lilesa said he would be in danger if he goes back to Ethiopia.

"I really think that I would be killed," he said, according to CNN.

Feyisa Lelisa Support Fund

However an Ethiopian official told CNN that nothing will happen to Lelisa or his family.

Ethiopia's Communications Minister Getachew Reda described told CNN that Lelisa is "an Ethiopian hero."

"I can assure you nothing is going to happen to his family nothing is going to happen to him," Reda told CNN.

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