Ethiopia’s government said it will welcome marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa as hero and vowed not to prosecute him for his anti-government gesture at the Rio Olympics Games.
Lilesa is likely not to return to Addis Ababa fearing for his life and freedom after dozens were killed during protests across the East African nation. He won the silver for Ethiopia and crossed his wrist at the finish line in support of the Oromo protest, a gesture used by protesters in his native region.
“Oromo is my tribe,” he said. “My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”
Videos from protests show security forces kicking and beating protests. They opened fire on them and at least 400 people have reportedly died since protests started in November 2015.
A government spokesperson said Lilesa will not have any problems upon his return but some diaspora Ethiopians say it is only a ploy to lure him into the country and may be prosecuted months later.
“We should all be highly skeptical regarding the statements made about Feyisa’s supposed safety when he returns home,” says Jeffrey Smith of Vanguard Africa. “Over the years, the Ethiopian government has shown a ruthless inability to accept or otherwise tolerate any semblance of criticism.”
Smith said the government must not be taken for their words and safety should be demanded for those whose only request is for their most basic human rights be respected in practice.
Oromos are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Protests erupted after the government some of its land and incorporated it into the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s government rescinded the decision but protests quickly turned into political demands for greater freedom.
Ethiopia has been accused of suppressing free press and dissent by blocking internet access. The government has been accused of rights violations and torture.