By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 22, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – An Ethiopian official on Monday said government will not punish its own Athlete for staging protest sign against his home government during Sunday’s Rio Olympic marathon race.
- A group of protestors carry placards in support of Oromia region (Opride.com)
Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms above his head, holding up an X gesture as he crossed the finish line of the men’s marathon as he came second.
At a news conference he gave in Rio, Feyisa told reporters that the protest gesture was to show solidarity with the Oromo protests that have been taking place in the country since last year.
The protest gesture was the same sign made by Oromo protesters who say are subjected to heavy-handed police crackdowns.
“The Ethiopian government is killing the Oromo people and taking their land and resources so the Oromo people are protesting and I support the protest as I am Oromo” he said.
According to Human rights groups, dozens of Oromo protesters were killed by security forces during recent crack down against protesters.
Government officials say the protests are being staged illegally, organized by exiled anti-peace elements and dissidents.
According to police officials protesters were armed in some of the protests and have killed several members of the security force.
“The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest."
The 26-year-old runner from Oromia, home to Ethiopia’s largest Ethnic group, said his life would be in danger if he returned home.
“If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. Otherwise, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet” he said adding he might consider moving to another country.
Despite the protest gesture, the Ethiopian government said it will warmly welcome Feyisa.
Ethiopia"s information minister, Getachew Reda, however, dismissed the athlete"s concerns.
“Though it is impossible to express a political stance at Olympic Games, the athlete will be welcomed while returning home along with other members of the Ethiopian Olympic squad,” he told state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation.
The state-run Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) has aired Rio’s Marathon race Live on TV on Sunday afternoon. However after the protest gesture, no footage of Feyisa was shown including while he was being awarded his silver medal.