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Ethiopian Olympics Medalist: If I Go Back, They Might Kill Me

"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere," Feyisa Lilesa said at a press conference.


For Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa, winning the silver medal for the Olympics marathon was not all he wanted to achieve—he also had in mind a powerful message of solidarity with his people back home who are facing a major crackdown from the government as they protest its discriminatory policies.

As he crossed the finish line on Sunday, Lilesa raised his crossed arms in the air, forming an "X," a gesture of solidarity with members of his Oromo people. Since Nov. 2015, government security forces have killed hundreds of people from the Oromo community after protests against a plan to redevelop their farmland.

The Oromo have been using the same "X" gesture that Lilesa, 26, used at the finish line. Earlier this month, at least 50 people were killed over a weekend in clashes in Ethiopia between police and anti-government demonstrators after the authorities brutally suppressed a fresh wave of unrest.

At a news conference following the race, Lilesa reiterated his protest. "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."

He added that he now fears for his life over his protest and could in fact be killed or imprisoned as soon as he landed in Ethiopia.

"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 added.

The unrest follows government development plans, announced last late last year and dubbed the Addis Adaba Integrated Master Plan, which protesters say will displace farmers.

The plans are set to expand from the capital Addis Ababa into adjacent farm lands of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest state with at least 27 million people.

Oromia has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Ethiopia’s official Amharic language. The government blames foreign "terrorist groups" for the unrest.

Social media websites have been blocked in the country since early August as it is the means in which organizers mobilize. Several human rights organizations have said at least 400 people have been killed since November.

Jimirasire

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