Ethiopia's Lilesa makes protest gesture at marathon finish

The Ethiopian Olympic marathon silver medallist Feyisa Lelisa is planning to claim asylum in the U.S. following his participation in the Rio Games.

Now though the Ethiopian has revealed he may be forced to flee his country with the prospect of prison or death after his protest.

According to the Washington Post, the X gesture has been used by the Oromo people for months as a sign of protest.

Explaining his actions, Lilesa said: "The Ethiopian government are killing the Oromo people and taking (away) their land and resources; so the Oromo people are protesting, and I support the protest as I am Oromo". 

Tensions between the Oromo and the government have been on the rise since last November when the government announced plans to reallocate Oromo farmland for development.

Lilesa also said he has family members who are in prison, and "if they talk about democratic rights they are killed".

Ethiopia has always been one of the world's poorest nations but has industrialised rapidly in the past decade. Those athletes, like Lilesa, were opposed to the Ethiopian government's treatment of Oromo people.

However, reallocating land is a thorny issue for Ethiopians, many of whom are subsistence farmers.

Though that scheme has subsequently been shelved, unrest flared again this month after protesters took to the streets demanding an end to rights abuses such as the release of jailed dissidents.

The government's response to the protests has been brutal, with Human Rights Watch estimating that 140 people have been killed by security forces to quell the Oromo protests.

The government disputes the figures and says illegal protests by "anti-peace forces" have been brought under control.

It was a remarkable turn of events - within seconds, Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country.

"Oromo is my tribe".

"Maybe I move to another country. you get the freedom if you support only the government".

  • Leroy Wright