Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lelisa, the silver medalist in last month’s Olympic men’s marathon, said his defiant, finish-line gesture against the Ethiopian government was no spontaneous act.
Feyisa grabbed worldwide attention when he crossed his wrists above his head in a sign of solidarity with anti-government protests in his native Oromia region that have left hundreds dead since last November.
“As soon as I was selected [for the Olympics], I decided that I would use this opportunity to take the voice of my people and make the protest be seen and also their voice be heard,” Feyisa told VOA in Washington Thursday.
“The Oromo people were protesting,” he added. “They have not gotten much coverage to what was happening on the ground.So I knew people would be watching. I wanted to use that opportunity. …. So I made my decision three months before the race.”
Feyisa also reiterated his belief that if he returns to Ethiopia he will be punished or killed. An Ethiopian government spokesman said after the Olympics that Feyisa would be welcomed if he came home.
But Feyisa dismissed the comments, saying the spokesman “has insulted the great Oromo nation before on TV. He demonized the largest ethnic group in the country. … I do not believe anything,” he said, “and I do not trust what the Ethiopian government says, and that is why I cannot go back to Ethiopia.”
The protests in Oromia, which broke out last November, were sparked by disputes over land rights and fair representation in the government.
Feyisa arrived in Washington earlier this week.Tuesday, he called on the U.S. Congress to take action in solidarity with Ethiopians protesting their government.
“I know that Americans are peace-loving people,” he said. “My people are also peace-loving people, but they have been denied peace for a very long time.”
Speaking in his native Afaan Oromoo
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