Ethiopia Says It Will Welcome, Not Imprison, Marathoner

It's unclear if Feyisa Lilesa will ever return home
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2016 2:04 PM CDT
Ethiopia Says It Will Welcome, Not Imprison, Marathoner
Silver medal Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa, crosses his arms as he celebrates on the podium after the men's marathon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016.    (Luca Bruno)

The Ethiopian marathon runner who made an anti-government gesture at the Rio Games while approaching the finish line will not face prosecution upon his return home and will have "a heroic welcome," a government spokesman said Monday. But it was not clear whether the runner would go back, reports the AP. Feyisa Lilesa told reporters on Sunday that he may be killed or imprisoned if he ever returns to the East African country. He called protesting inside Ethiopia "very dangerous." The silver medalist crossed his wrists in an attempt to draw global attention to recent deadly protests in his home region, Oromia. He told reporters that Ethiopia's government is killing his people. "My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

The crossed-wrists gesture has been widely used by anti-government protesters in recent nationwide demonstrations as a sign of peaceful resistance. It is meant to symbolize being handcuffed by security forces. Lilesa "will not face any problems for his political stance," the government spokesman told a state-affiliated broadcaster. "After all, this is an athlete who secured a silver medal for his country." Lilesa told reporters that he would discuss what to do next with family and friends. The Oromo are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group with about 40 million people. Their region has seen massive anti-government protests since November 2015 following the government's decision to annex some Oromia land into the capital, Addis Ababa. The plan has been abandoned, but demonstrations calling for wider freedoms have continued. (More 2016 Olympics stories.)

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