Olympic Medalist Fears For His Life After Protesting Against Ethiopian Government

Winning the silver medal in the men’s marathon in Rio wasn’t Feyisa Lilesa’s biggest challenge

Feyisa Lilesa used his moment of triumph to make a powerful statement. But he’s worried that statement could cost him his life.

The Ethiopian runner claimed the silver medal in the men’s marathon at the Rio Games on Sunday. As he crossed the finish line, he raised and crossed his arms in an act designed to show solidarity with the Oromo people in Ethiopia. The Oromo—of which Lilesa is one—are protesting the Ethiopian government’s plan to expand the capital city of Addis Ababa into Oromia, which would displace indigenous farmers.

Human Rights Watch estimates that 400 protestors have been killed—though Lilesa asserts that number is much higher—and thousands more arrested by the Ethiopian government. “If I go back to Ethiopia, the government will kill me,” Lilesa told Sports Illustrated. “If not, they will charge me. After that, if they [don’t] charge [me], they will block [me] in the airport in immigration. I want to move to another country.”

Feyisa Lilesa crosses his arms as he secures the silver medal in the men's marathon at the Rio Games. (Image via Getty by Adrian Dennis)

Lilesa named the United States and Kenya as possible destinations should he find himself unable to return home. But the Ethiopian government claims Lilesa has nothing to fear. Rather, officials claim Lilesa will be embraced upon his return to the African nation.

“I can assure you nothing is going to happen to his family [and] nothing is going to happen to him,” Ethiopian Communications Minister Getachew Reda told CNN. Reda, who described Lilesa as an “Ethiopian hero,” disputed the runner’s claims around the numbers of protestors killed, but said he’s entitled to make a political statement. “That is his right.”

But being wary of government clearly is part of life for Lilesa’s people, who make up the nation’s largest ethnic group.

“When somebody knocks on your door, you suspect who comes,” Lilesa told SI. “Soldier or people.”

Ethiopian officials actually dropped their expansion plans in January, but reports indicate that crackdowns on protestors continued.

And that just motivated Lilesa to protest on one of the world’s biggest stages.

"I was protesting for my people," Lilesa said.

Lilesa finished the marathon with a time of 2:09:54. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won gold, while American Galen Rupp took the bronze.

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less