Feyisa Lilesa, went to the 2016 Olympic Games to represent his native Ethiopia. He has since not returned to the country for fear of arrest, imprisonment and torture.
He won a silver medal in Rio but more than the medal his gesture at the end of his race is what made the biggest news. As he crossed the line after his 42-kilometer race, Lilesa crossed his hands above his head – a protest sign by the Oromo people back home.
After Rio, he sought for and was granted asylum in the United States and has been living there since leaving Rio. He was reunited with his family later – after his wife and two kids flew to join him in the States.
Despite his inability to return home, he continues to participate in marathons across the world.
His most recent feat was winning the 18th edition of the Bogota half marathon in Colombia, and after crossing the line in a time of 1: 04: 30 he again showed the anti-government gesture.
He run in the name of Ethiopia and by winning, ensured that the title still bore an Ethiopian flag. The winner last year was fellow national, Tadese Tola. Tola broke a Kenyan dominance that spanned five years (2011 – 2015.)
Prior to Bogota, he had failed to make a mark at the London marathon where he promised to continue his protest against the government in Addis Ababa.
Clearly, the 27-year-old seems to enjoy running – far from home and on the tracks, winning and protesting in solidarity with other Oromos who remain in Ethiopia.
He has previously said returning home would have been his biggest regret in life even though the authorities said he was free to do so. He told the AP news agency that he wanted to be the voice of those suffering back home.
“If I would’ve taken my medal and went back to Ethiopia, that would’ve been the biggest regret of my life. I wanted to be a voice for a story that wasn’t getting any coverage.”
He also took part in the London marathon months back even though he failed to make a mark he stated at the time that he would continue protesting against the government. He has also previously appeared before the European Union parliament along with a leading opposition chief, Dr. Merera Gudina.
Gudina was arrested last December after returning from Brussels. He is currently in jail facing terrorism charges. He categorically denies all the charges. He is charged along with two other persons.
Lilesa, was named among the 2016 top 100 global thinkers by the US based Foreign Policy (FP) magazine. He was classed in the group of thinkers called “the challengers.”
Under the title, “For breaking the rules of the games,” FP wrote about Feyisa: “Given the fact that the Olympic Charter bans political propaganda, demonstrations are a rarity at the games. Nevertheless, Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa snubbed the rulebook in order to call attention to the brutal actions of his country’s security forces.
“As the marathoner approached the finish line in second place, he crossed his arms over his head—an attention-grabbing gesture to show solidarity with his Oromo tribe. In the weeks before the race, the Ethiopian government had cracked down on protests by the embattled indigenous group and killed dozens.”