Ethiopian Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa is calling on the international community to do more to stop the alleged persecution of Oromo people.
The 27-year-old athlete, who is an ethnic Oromo, made headlines last year after he crossed his arms over his head as he passed the finish line in the marathon race at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The gesture is a symbol of resistance Oromo people widely used during anti-government protests in Ethiopia in 2016. Making up 34.4 percent of the country’s 102 million people, the Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Demonstrations broke out in the Oromia region in November 2015 and later spread to the Amhara region, northwestern Ethiopia, growing into what has been considered the biggest anti-government unrest in Ethiopia’s recent history and prompting the country to declare a state of emergency —still in place today—that put an end to the protests.
People initially protested over government plans to expand the territory of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, with farmers raising concerns that increasing the size of the city would lead to forced evictions and loss of farming land.
The government later scrapped the plans, but protests continued. Many Oromo people argued for a greater inclusion in the political process, saying they had been marginalized. Protesters also called for the release of political prisoners.
The country is ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of four political parties that includes the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization.