The Ethiopian government says it plans to treat marathoner Feyisa Lilesa as a hero, not a traitor, when he returns home after making a protesting hand gesture at the Olympics.
The long-distance runner crossed his hands as he crossed the finish line. He did so again when awarded the silver medal on the podium.
“If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me,” Lilesa told the media. “If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country.”
But the government says it plans to honor Lilesa, not kill or imprison him. The runner “will not face any problems for his political stance,” a government mouthpiece said over the airwaves. “After all, this is an athlete who secured a silver medal for his country.”
The hand gesture comes in response to the Ethiopian government’s expropriation of land. The property grab incited protests, which resulted in dozens of dead demonstrators. In the regions of Oromia and Amhara, the expropriation campaign found resistance. Government forces killed hundreds of citizens resisting the seizure.
“Oromo is my tribe,” Lilesa, a winner of the Dublin and Xiamen marathons, explains. “My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights, they are killed.”