Long distance Ethiopian athlete, Feyisa Lilesa, failed to return home at the close of Rio 2016 Olympics despite being assured he would not be punished for taking a stand over political suppression in his country.
The male marathon silver medalist reportedly skipped his flight to Addis Ababa on Monday night, August 22.
Lilesa, who finished second in the male’s marathon after Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in Rio, crossed his arms as he leapt over the finishing line in a symbolic protest.
The vicenarian repeated the feat during the medal ceremony, saying he was afraid to go back home and hitherto was protesting to support his family who were illegally detained for speaking out against the atrocities of the ruling regime.
“I was protesting for my people,” Lilesa said. “It was for all my relatives in prison. I am worried to ask my relatives to talk in prison – if you talk you get killed.”
In a post race interview, Lilesa said he wanted to draw attention of the government’s ongoing persecution of the Oromo’s.
The 26-year-old moreover reiterated that he knew the consequences of his actions and would not dare return home.
“If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me. If I am not killed, maybe they will put me in prison. If they do not put me in prison, they will block me at airport,” he said. “I have got a decision. Maybe I move to another country.”
The Oromo community, who have been disenfranchised for decades, constitute over a third of Ethiopia’s population.
With tension rising recently from Government initiative to forcefully acquire the community’s farmland over development, the Oromo’s staged a protest where hundreds lost their lives.