Ethiopian marathon medalist stays put in Rio, vows to fight for land rights

Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:31pm EDT
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By Sally Hayden

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ethiopian silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, who did not return home after staging a protest against his government at the Rio Olympics, said on Thursday he feared for his life if he went back and vowed to keep up his fight for land rights.

Lilesa attracted global attention as he crossed the finish line in the marathon on Sunday and raised his arms above his head in an "X", a sign of protest against the Ethiopian government's treatment of his people, the ethnic Oromo.

Ethiopia's Oromiya region, home to more than 25 million Oromos, has been riven by violent unrest over land rights and allegations of human rights violations since last November.

Conflict over Oromo land began more than 100 years ago and the marginalization of his people is equally long standing, Lilesa said.

He fears his life would be at risk if he returned, despite public assurances by the government that he would not be punished for his protest.

"I heard that and found it funny," Lilesa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by Skype from Rio, where he has been staying since Monday when his team mates returned to Ethiopia

"They kill and they don't tell the world they kill, they jail and they don't tell anybody, so how can I believe that?" he said.

Government officials did not reply to the Thomson Reuters Foundation's request for comment.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Final - Men's Marathon - Sambodromo - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/08/2016. Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) of Ethiopia celebrates as he wins silver      REUTERS/Sergio Moraes