Fey­isa Lilesa: Ethiopian protest run­ner lands in the US

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ethiopian Olympian Fey­isa Lilesa, who said he wanted to seek asy­lum af­ter mak­ing an antigov­ern­ment ges­ture in Rio, has ar­rived in the US.

The marathon run­ner crossed the line in sec­ond place with his arms above his head in sol­i­dar­ity with Oromo ac­tivists who are stag­ing protests in Ethiopia.

He re­peated the ges­ture later at a press con­fer­ence, say­ing his life would be in dan­ger if he re­turned home.

The govern­ment has been ac­cused of bru­tally crack­ing down on pro­test­ers.

The coun­try’s In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Ge­tachew Reda told the BBC at the time that he had noth­ing to fear and would be wel­comed home as a hero. But speak­ing af­ter the race, Mr Fey­isa said he might be killed if he re­turned.

“If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not de­cided yet, but maybe I will move to an­other coun­try.”

His fam­ily later said that he wanted to seek asy­lum in the US.

A fund­ing cam­paign, which has now reached its $150,000 tar­get, was set up to help pay his le­gal fees and sup­port his fam­ily back home in Ethiopia.

Mr Fey­isa is from Oro­mia, home to most of Ethiopia’s 35 mil­lion Oromo peo­ple, the coun­try’s largest eth­nic group. The re­gion has been hit by a wave of antigov­ern­ment protests since Novem­ber last year as peo­ple com­plain about so­cial and po­lit­i­cal marginal­i­sa­tion.

US-based rights group Hu­man Rights Watch has said that se­cu­rity forces have killed more than 400 peo­ple dur­ing the demon­stra­tions. The govern­ment dis­putes the fig­ure and has said that it wel­comes di­a­logue and peace­ful protests to sort out is­sues that peo­ple may have.

The in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter has ac­knowl­edged that there have been some killings but has said that in the main the se­cu­rity forces con­ducted them­selves “in a very pro­fes­sional and re­spon­si­ble man­ner”.

He put the killings down to “a few bad ap­ples”.

Fey­isa Lilesa made the ges­ture as he crossed the line and again at a press con­fer­ence.

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