Ethiopia’s government has pledged to keep Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa safe, just days after he openly defied his country’s authorities.
Lilesa crossed his hands above his head after finishing the marathon on Sunday, staging a dramatic protest against the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on political dissent.
The 26-year-old marathoner said Sunday his act of defiance could cost him his life – but Ethiopian officials have vowed to welcome him home, state-controlled Fana radio reported on Monday.
But supporters have started an online fundraising campaign, hoping to help Lilesa relocate.
Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa (pictured as he finishes the marathon in Rio on Sunday) crossed his arms above his head, in an act of defiance against his government
Lilesa first crossed his arms as he finished the marathon second behind Kenyan favourite Eliud Kipchoge.
He repeated the gesture during the race’s medal ceremony and said he was afraid to go back to his homeland following his protest ‘against the government’s attitude regarding Oromo people’, one of two main ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
Human rights groups say that Ethiopian security forces have killed scores of people in recent weeks as authorities crack down on a wave of anti-government unrest in two key regions, central-western Oromia and Amhara in the north.
‘Lilesa won’t face any problem due to his political stance,’ government spokesman Getachew Reda told Fana.
The 26-year-old silver medalist said Sunday the gesture (pictured) could cost him his life but Ethiopian officials have vowed to welcome him home, a state-controlled radio reported
‘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 added.
But Lilesa said Sunday in Rio that he had relatives in prison in Ethiopia and expressed concerns for his personal safety.
‘If you talk about democracy they kill you. If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me, or put me in prison,’ he said.
‘It is very dangerous in my country. Maybe I have to go to another country. I was protesting for people everywhere who have no freedom.’
‘If you talk about democracy they kill you. If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me, or put me in prison,’ Lilesa (pictured on Sunday in Rio) said
Supporters determined to keep Lilesa safe have raised $76,600 out of a goal of $100,000 on Go Fund Me in just one day.
‘Feyisa Lilesa faces persecution if he goes back to Ethiopia and he has decided to to seek asylum,’ the campaign reads.
‘Funds are needed to support him and his family in the meantime.’
BBC Africa‘s Emmanuel Igunza reported on Monday that Lilesa intended to seek asylum in the United States.
‘A legal team hired by Ethiopians in the US is heading for Rio to try and help with his asylum bid,’ he added.
‘If he can’t stay in the US, he is likely to move to Kenya where he has relatives.’
Supporters determined to keep Lilesa (pictured left next to gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and American bronze medalist Galen Rupp) safe have raised $74,410 in one day
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