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Oromia: Atheltic Nation Reports: Olympian and the global icon of #OromoProtests Feyisal Lilesa finishes 3rd in his the Great North Run Half Marathon Debut. Sir Mo Farah 1st and Jake Robertson 2nd. September 11, 2017

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Odaa OromoooromianeconomistOromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa (the global icon of #OromoProtests) wins the Bogota Half Marathon, 30 July 2017.

 

Olympian and the global icon of #OromoProtests Feyisal Lilesa finishes 3rd in his the Great North Run Debut on 10 September 2017. Sir Mo Farah 1st and Jake Robertson was 2nd.

Oromo Olympian Feyisa Lilesa finishes 3rd in the Great North Run Half Marathon.png

Mo Farah and Feyisa Lilesa to go head-to-head at Great North Run

 

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The NY Times: OLYMPICS: Feyisa Lilesa, Marathoner in Exile, Finds Refuge in Arizona February 25, 2017

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Feyisa Lelisa  Rio Olympian and world icon of #OromoProtests

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The young boy was getting reacquainted with his father after an absence of six months and climbed on him as if he were a tree. The boy kissed his father and hugged him and clambered onto his shoulders. Then, when a protest video streamed on television, the boy grabbed a stick, and the lid of a pot to serve as a shield, and began to mimic a dance of dissent in the living room.

There is much joy and relief, but also continued political complication, in the modest apartment of Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian marathon runner who won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics and gained international attention when he crossed his arms above his head at the finish line in a defiant gesture against the East African nation’s repressive government.

Afraid to return home, fearing he would be jailed, killed or no longer allowed to travel, Lilesa, 27, remained in Brazil after the Summer Games, then came to the United States in early September. He has received a green card as a permanent resident in a category for individuals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and sports.

On Valentine’s Day, his wife, Iftu Mulisa, 26; daughter, Soko, 5; and son, Sora, 3, were reunited with him, first in Miami and then in Flagstaff, where Lilesa is training at altitude for the London Marathon in April. Their immigrant visas are valid until July, but they also hope to receive green cards.

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“I’m relieved and very happy that my family is with me,” Lilesa said, speaking through an interpreter. “But I chose to be in exile. Since I left the situation has gotten much, much worse. My people are living in hell, dying every day. It gives me no rest.”

Lilesa’s Olympic protest was against Ethiopia’s treatment of his ethnic group, the Oromo people, who compose about a third of the country’s population of 102 million but are dominated politically by the Tigray ethnic group.

Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that, in 2016, Ethiopian security forces “killed hundreds and detained tens of thousands” in the Oromia and Amhara regions; progressively curtailed basic rights during a state of emergency; and continued a “bloody crackdown against largely peaceful protesters” in disputes that have flared since November 2015 over land displacement, constitutional rights and political reform.

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Feyisa Lilesa’s gesture as he finished second in the Olympic marathon was made to protest Ethiopia’s treatment of his ethnic group, the Oromo people. CreditOlivier Morin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Ethiopian government has said that Lilesa could return home safely and would be considered a hero, but he does not believe this. He lists reasons for his suspicions, and they are personal: His brother-in-law, Tokkuma Mulisa, who is in his early 20s, has been imprisoned for about a year and reportedly tortured, and his health remains uncertain. His younger brother, Aduna, also a runner, was beaten and detained by the Ethiopian military in October.

Aduna Lilesa, 22, said he was training in Burayu, outside the capital, Addis Ababa, on Oct. 16 when soldiers approached him. They hit him in the head with the butt of a rifle, kicked him and threatened to shoot him, he said, while demanding information about Feyisa.

Fearing for his life, a gun pointed at him, Aduna said he lied and told the soldiers what he thought they wanted to hear about his brother: “He is a terrorist; he is no good.”

Since the Olympics, Aduna said, his wife has been suspended from her job with Ethiopian government radio. He is living with Feyisa in Flagstaff until mid-March, when he will return home to his wife and young son. “It is not safe, but my family is there,” Aduna Lilesa said. “If I live here, they will be confused.”

Unease extends, too, to the Ethiopian running community.

When Feyisa Lilesa runs the London Marathon, one of his primary challengers figures to be Kenenisa Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion on the track and a fellow Oromo who is considered by many the greatest distance runner of all time. The two runners were never close and tension between them increased last September in Berlin, where Bekele ran the second-fastest marathon time ever.

Before that race, Bekele said in an interview with Canadian Running Magazine, speaking in English, which is not his first language, that “anyone have right to protest anything” but “you need to maybe choose how to protest and solve things.”

Asked specifically about Lilesa’s Olympic protest, Bekele said it was better to get an answer from him. Asked about other Ethiopian runners who have made similar crossed-arm gestures, Bekele said that sport should be separate from politics, that everyone had a right to protest in Ethiopia and that the government was trying to “solve things in a democratic way.”

Bekele has received some criticism for not being more forceful in his remarks, and on social media in Ethiopia there is a split between supporters of the two runners. “Many people are being killed,” Lilesa said of Bekele. “How can you say that’s democratic? I’m very angry when he says that.”

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Lilesa playing with his son, Sora, at the family’s new apartment in Flagstaff, where Lilesa is training for the London Marathon in April. CreditMatthew Staver for The New York Times

His own social awareness, Lilesa said, began when he was a schoolboy, living on a farm in the Jaldu district, sometimes spelled Jeldu, west of Addis Ababa. Security forces used harsh tactics to break up student protests, he said, and sometimes his classmates simply disappeared. He belongs to a younger Oromo generation emboldened to resist what it considers to be marginalization by Ethiopia’s ruling party.

“Before, people would run away; they feared the government, the soldiers,” Lilesa said. “Today, fear has been defeated. People are standing their ground. They are fed up and feel they have nothing more to lose.”

When he was named to Ethiopia’s Olympic team last May, three months before the Summer Games, Lilesa felt it was urgent to make some kind of protest gesture in Rio de Janeiro. But he did not tell anyone of his plans. If he told his family, they might talk him out of it. If the government found out, he might be kicked off the Olympic team or worse.

He continued to visit Oromo people detained in jail and to give money to Oromo students who had been dismissed from school and left homeless. He was wealthy for an Ethiopian, independent, and he sensed that the government monitored some of his movements.

He worried that he could be injured or killed in a staged auto accident. Or that someone might ambush him when he was training in the forests around Addis Ababa. When the doorbell rang at his home, he went to the second floor and peered outside before answering.

“I was really fearful,” Lilesa said. “Being an Oromo makes one suspect.”

On the final day of the Olympics, his moment came. As he reached the finish of the marathon, in second place behind Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and ahead of Galen Rupp of the United States, Lilesa crossed his arms. It was a familiar Oromo gesture of protest and one that carried great risk, both to his career representing Ethiopia and to his family.

“Giving up running for Ethiopia was the least I could do, because other people were giving up their lives,” Lilesa said.

Iftu Mulisa, his wife, was watching at home in Addis Ababa with 15 or 20 relatives and friends. There was loud cheering and celebrating, and then Lilesa crossed his arms. The cheering was replaced by silence and confusion and fear.

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After the Olympics, Lilesa was not certain he would see his family again. But on Valentine’s Day, they flew to Miami to join him. CreditWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

“Everyone was asking: ‘Does he come home? Does he stay? What happens next?’” Mulisa said. “It was so shocking. He hadn’t told anyone.”

For two or three days, Lilesa said, he did not answer the phone when his wife called.

“I had put them in this position and I just didn’t know what to say to her,” he said.

Still, he felt he had made the right decision.

“I needed to do this,” Lilesa said. “I thought of it this way: When a soldier enlists, you know the risks, but because you swore to defend the country or the law, you don’t think about the consequences.”

When he finally spoke to his wife, Lilesa said, he tried to calm her and tell her everything would be O.K. But the uncertainty was difficult.

“He had never been gone more than a week or two,” Mulisa said. “Having young kids made it more difficult. They missed him and asked questions I couldn’t answer. But I was hopeful we would be reunited one day.”

In a diplomatic whirlwind, Lilesa secured an immigrant visa to the United States and eventually moved to Flagstaff, a training hub at nearly 7,000 feet where athletes often go to enhance their oxygen-carrying capacity. He was invited there by a runner from Eritrea, which neighbors Ethiopia.

Even in the best of situations, distance running can be an isolating life of training twice a day and sleeping. Lilesa kept in touch with his family through video chats, but they were disrupted for a period when the Ethiopian government restricted internet access.

In Ethiopia it is the traditional role of the wife or maid to prepare the food, to do the domestic chores. Without his family, Lilesa said, he sometimes ate only once or twice a day, too tired to cook dinner, hardly recommended for marathoners who routinely train more than 100 miles per week.

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Lilesa with his wife, Iftu Mulisa, and their children, Sora, 3, and Soko, 5. “I’m relieved and very happy that my family is with me,” he said. CreditMatthew Staver for The New York Times

“I had to fend for myself in a way I’ve never done in my life,” he said.

Perhaps the most difficult moment, Lilesa said, came when he was still in Rio de Janeiro after the Games and learned of the death of a close friend, Kebede Fayissa. He had been arrested in August, Lilesa said, and was among more than 20 inmates to die in a fire in September under suspicious circumstances at Kilinto prison on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Opposition figures have said that the bodies of some prisoners had bullet wounds.

“I didn’t even know he had been arrested and there I was in Brazil, finding about his death on Facebook,” Lilesa said of Fayissa. “He had helped me so much at different times of my life.”

Eventually, Mulisa and their two children received immigrant visas to enter the United States and left Addis Ababa in mid-February for Frankfurt, Germany, then Miami, where Lilesa greeted them at the airport. The scariest time, Mulisa said, came when she walked down the Jetway to the plane, afraid the Ethiopian government would prevent her from leaving at the last minute.

Most likely, Lilesa said, his family was permitted to leave because to do otherwise would have generated negative publicity. In Miami, there was more emotion than words, Mulisa said, as the children hugged their father and she told him, “I didn’t think I would see you so soon.”

While he will surely not be chosen to compete for Ethiopia at the Olympics and world track and field championships while in exile, Lilesa can still make hundreds of thousands of dollars as an independent, elite marathon runner. Since the Olympics, he has run a marathon in Honolulu and a half marathon in Houston. A GoFundMe campaign for him and his family, started by supporters, raised more than $160,000. The London Marathon is two months away.

He now has a voice as strong as his legs. Lilesa has met with United States senators, addressed members of the European Parliament in Brussels, written an op-ed essay in The Washington Post and spoken with numerous reporters, trying to spread the story of the Oromo people.

If the political situation changes in Ethiopia, he said, he and his family will move home. He does not expect that to happen soon. In the meantime, he hopes that his wife and children will be permitted to make yearly trips there to visit relatives. For himself, he said he had no regrets.

“This has given me more confidence, more reasons to try harder, more reasons to compete so that I can use this platform to raise awareness,” Lilesa said. “I’m constantly thinking, what else can I do?”


Ethiopian runner who protested in Rio reunites with family. #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution February 15, 2017

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`Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

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Ethiopian runner who protested in Rio reunites with family

NY Daily News, February 14, 2017

 

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, rear, of Ethiopia, hugs his wife Iftu Mulia, his daughter Soko, right, 5, and son Sora, left, 3, while picking up his family at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, rear, of Ethiopia, hugs his wife Iftu Mulia, his daughter Soko, right, 5, and son Sora, left, 3, while picking up his family at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.

(WILFREDO LEE/AP)

The Ethiopian marathoner hid behind a column at the Miami airport as he carried a bouquet of red roses.Feyisa Lilesa’s daughter spotted him first and ran in for a hug. Then, his young son and lastly his wife.On Valentine’s Day, the Olympic silver medalist who became an international figure when he crossed his wrists in protest at the finish line in Rio de Janeiro finally reunited with his family. He was a little late (traffic), but what’s a few extra minutes when he’s already waited six long months to see them.As he made his way out of the airport, his daughter rode on the luggage and his son perched on his shoulders, carrying the flowers he brought as a gift.Ethiopia’s Lilesa afraid to return home after Olympic display“The biggest gift is us seeing each other again — and me seeing them again,” Lilesa said through a translator in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s all been very tough.”

The 27-year-old eventually settled in Flagstaff, Arizona, after making an anti-government gesture during the Olympic marathon that drew global attention to the deadly protests in his home region of Oromia. He never returned home after Brazil out of fear of what might happen to him. He’s constantly been worrying about the family he left behind in Ethiopia. His nearly 6-year-old daughter, Soko, and 3 ½-year-old son, Sora, always asked when they will see him again.

Finally, he was able to answer.

Lilesa remains in the U.S. on a special skills visa. His family arrived on visas as well, secured through his attorney.

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The plan now is this: A few days of beach time and then it’s off to Flagstaff where the family will settle into everyday life in their rental house.

One weight off his mind.

Still, he can’t forget what his country is going through, with the Oromia region experiencing anti-government protests over recent months. Violent anti-government protests spread to other parts of Ethiopia and led to a state of emergency that was declared in October.

Since his gesture, many have described Lilesa as a national hero.

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“My mind is pretty much occupied by what is happening back home,” Lilesa said. “Whether I’m running or I’m sleeping or I’m laying back, my family and what is happening in Ethiopia — and what is happening to my people — that’s constantly on my mind.”

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, of Ethiopia, carries his son Sora, 3, and pulls along his daughter Soko, 5, after picking up his family at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, of Ethiopia, carries his son Sora, 3, and pulls along his daughter Soko, 5, after picking up his family at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.

(WILFREDO LEE/AP)

Most days since his arrival in America have been spent training. It was his best cure for loneliness.

“I come from a very big family, and I’ve never lived alone,” Lilesa said. “I’ve always been surrounded by people I know. This has been the complete opposite. Here, I’m removed from all of that.”

Still, he would protest all over again.

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“I think me taking the risk and putting family in that position and putting them potentially in harm’s way, it was a good lesson for a lot of people that you need to sacrifice in order for you to win some concessions and change your situation,” Lilesa said. “In that sense, it inspires people to fight for their rights and resist the government in Ethiopia. It also led to greater awareness about the situation in Ethiopia.

“Now, you see more coverage of the human rights violations. I speak with people wherever I go. Even outside the media limelight, people are interested in knowing. They heard the story because of my protest.”

Someday, he would like to go back to Ethiopia.

“But as long as this current government is in power, I don’t have hope of going back to Ethiopia,” he explained. “I do know change is inevitable.”

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He also wants to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Whether that’s wearing the colors of Ethiopia, he doesn’t know.

“I’m not too hopeful the system will be changed in the next three years and I will be in a position to run for Ethiopia. We will have to wait and see,” said Lilesa, who plans to run in the London Marathon in two months.

For now, Lilesa’s priority is getting his family settled.

“I knew that we would meet somehow, but I didn’t expect it would happen under these circumstances over here,” Lilesa said. “When I think about my family, it takes me back to why I did this and why I’m here. I missed my family, but this was a big bother to me — the plight of my people.”


Related:

SB Nation: Olympian Feyisa Lilesa is reuniting with his Ethiopian family in U.S., despite fear of President Trump

 

Star Tribune: Ethiopian runner who protested in Rio reunites with family

WP: Ethiopian marathoner who protested at Rio Olympics reunites with his family

AP: Ethiopian runner who protested in Rio reunites with family

 

BBC: World-famous Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa has reunited with his family for the first time since going into exile in the US after protesting against the government at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio, the New York Daily News reports.   

runner who protested in reunites with family in US. http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/ethiopian-runner-protested-rio-reunites-family-article-1.2972659 

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Ethiopian runner who protested in Rio reunites with family

The Olympic silver medalist who became an international figure by crossing his wrists in protest finally reunited with his family.

Report

His wife, daughter and son flew into Miami, where the 27-year-old athlete met them after a separation of about six months.

Feyisa told the newspaper through a translator:

The biggest gift is us seeing each other again, and me seeing them again. It’s all been very tough.”

Back in August, Feyisa became the first Ethiopian to finish in the top two of a men’s Olympics marathon since 2000, claiming silver behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge.

As he crossed the line, he lifted his arms in an X-shape above his head in solidarity with the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group, who have suffered a crackdown at the hands of the Ethiopian government.

The country’s officials said the runner would be welcomed home from Rio as a hero, but Feyisa said he might be killed if he returned.

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa on the Guardian. #OrompProtests global icon p1Fayyisaa lalisaa Oromo national hero, at Rio 2016 Olympicmarathon in the podium, finishing line in #OromoProtests as winning theOlympic medal, 21 August 2016

 

The “x” sign is used as a symbol of protest in Ethiopia

https://www.facebook.com/VOAOromo/videos/1266626250039354/

One Of The World’s Best Long Distance Runners Is Now Running For His Life November 4, 2016

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Odaa OromooOromianEconomistOromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa on the Guardian. #OrompProtests global icon p1

Oromo Olympian Fayyisaa Leellisaa (Feyisa Lilesa) draws big crowd at his Minneapolis appearance-18 September 2016

Oromo Olympian Fayyisaa Leellisaa (Feyisa Lilesa) draws big crowd at his Minneapolis appearance-18 September 2016

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa in the social and international media. #OrompProtests global icon. p7


One Of The World’s Best Long Distance Runners Is Now Running For His Life

As marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finish line to win the silver medal at the Olympics this summer, he raised his arms over his head in an X to defiantly protest the Ethiopian government’s treatment of his fellow Oromo people. Three months later, unable to go home or see his family, he contemplates the price of being a world-class athlete speaking out.


As 26-year-old Ethiopian Olympic marathoner Feyisa Lilesa neared the finish line at the 2016 Rio Olympics with what would be a blazing time of 2:09:54, fast enough to win a silver medal in the men’s marathon, he felt no sudden wave of euphoria.

Instead, Lilesa took a deep breath and carried out the plan he’d dreamed about from the moment he was selected to compete in Rio: He crossed his arms above his head in an X. Putting them down for a quick moment and raising them again, he held the gesture as he ran through the finish line with his country’s strife running through his head.

“I knew by all accounts I was supposed to feel happiness in that moment, but all I could think about was the people dying back home,” the long-distance runner told me in Amharic when we spoke in Washington, DC, in September.

Lilesa’s gesture was unfamiliar to most international viewers, but Ethiopian audiences around the world recognized it immediately as the sign associated with anti-government protests stemming from Lilesa’s home region of Oromia, which have been growing in breadth and intensity since November 2015. The #OromoProtests contend that the country’s current government represses its largest ethnic population both culturally and economically.

Later, after flowers were placed around his neck at the end of the race, Lilesa prepared to make a second statement — this time at the post-race press conference. Stepping up to the conference-area podium with his official jacket unzipped — to disrupt the block text bearing Ethiopia’s name — he raised his arms once again and crossed his wrists above his head, spotlighting a wristband in Oromo colors: black, white, and red. If the first gesture could have been interpreted as spontaneous, Lilesa used this second one to make evident his long-held plan to speak out.

Feyisa Lilesa crosses the finish line to win silver during the men’s marathon. Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

Despite government spokesman Getachew Reda’s insistence that Lilesa would receive a “hero’s welcome” if he returned to Ethiopia, Lilesa told reporters in Rio he knew he could not go home without either being either jailed or killed for his actions. In fact, subsequent airings of the Olympics in Ethiopia did not show his gesture, and few state-run print publications covered that or even his win — at all.

Lilesa told journalists he’d seen the government’s duplicity with his own eyes: “The state-run Oromia TV posted on Facebook after I won saying, ‘Feyisa Lilesa successfully sent the terrorists’ message to the international community,’ but they immediately took down that message and changed their narrative” to a more positive one echoing spokesman Reda’s statement.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter forbids explicit political activity, decreeing that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.” But sports — and the Olympics in particular — have long played host to protests both quiet and overt, a stage for the world’s greatest to express both physical rigor and patriotic dissent.

In 1968, American gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home from the Summer Olympics in Mexico City and suspended from the US team for raising a fist in the air as they stood on the podium during the national anthem. In the aftermath of the protest, they lost their medals, their reputations, their friends, and in Carlos’s case, a marriage. Lilesa had never heard of John Carlos and Tommie Smith before he protested, and Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest had not yet garnered headlines. Becoming a hero or entering historical record was never part of Lilesa’s plan.

But online, Ethiopians around the world were discussing his historic show of solidarity. All over Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp, Oromo people were changing their avatars to pictures of Lilesa with hands raised and wrists crossed in front of him. At the end of his race, he’d emerged a hero to Oromos everywhere, even with his own future uncertain.

Days later, Lilesa saw rumors on social media that his friend Kebede Fayissa was among the countless dead after a fire — and officers’ bullets — erupted at a prison just outside Addis Ababa. He called home from his Rio hotel; confirmation of the news strengthened his resolve to continue speaking out.

American athletes Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right), protest with the Black Power salute at the Summer Olympic Games, Mexico City, October 1968. John Dominis / Getty Images

For Lilesa, the choice to protest came at tremendous personal cost. His wife and two young children, whom he did not inform of his plan to protest, live in the nation’s capital. He kept the decision from them, afraid they might compel him to change his mind. As an athlete, he supported them and his extended family, living a fairly comfortable life compared with those around him: He had his own house, a car, and an athletic career that had been thriving since he’d won the Dublin Marathon at only 19. Athletes are among the most respected public figures in the country, and remaining publicly apolitical — or even performing gratitude to the Ethiopian Athletics Federation — would have eased Lilesa into a simpler life. But amid the chaos that ensued after his protest, Lilesa lost valuable training time; his diet changed in transit, and the stress of impending exile wore on him.

The resultant series of setbacks will keep him from competing in this year’s New York City Marathon. Afraid to return home amid worsening political unrest, Lilesa is now training in Arizona for April’s London Marathon. Nine thousand miles away from his wife, his children, and the community he holds closest, he contemplates the personal cost of his protest.

To stay silent with the world’s eyes trained on him would have been a wasted opportunity to attract the media and political attention Lilesa believes is necessary to bring about change in Ethiopia. Progress in the region has not been linear, but Lilesa’s actions marked a catalyst: In the months since his protest, Western media coverage of the country’s political affairs has both increased and taken on a more widespread critical lens. “The little happiness I feel now is because I was able to show the world our desire for peace and it’s reached the world’s media,” he said.

But Lilesa himself lives in fear despite being one of the world’s most celebrated and talented elite athletes, the course of his life and career effectively derailed by the decision to speak out. At the apex of his career, one of the best runners in the world is now running for his life.

Feyisa Lilesa, photographed on September 13, 2016. T.J. Kirkpatrick for BuzzFeed News

The Oromo account for almost 40% of Ethiopia’s population — an estimated 39 million people — and a disproportionate amount of the nation’s elite runners. Born in 1990, Feyisa Lilesa grew up in Jaldu, a district in the West Shewa region of Oromia. The child of farmers, he was the second of seven children raised in a farming community about 75 miles west of Addis Ababa. Like many children in the surrounding area, Lilesa grew up thinking of running as a way to get to his classes — or as fellow runner Biruk Regassa told me, “When school is far, everyone is a runner.”

Since November 2015, protests in the region have sprung up in response to what the government called its “Addis Ababa Integrated Regional Development Plan,” or “Master Plan.” The plan outlined the method by which the federal government would integrate the capital city, Addis Ababa, with surrounding towns in Oromia.

“When school is far, everyone is a runner.”

Concerns over the proposed expansion were raised in 2014 by farmers who feared the government’s ongoing takeover of their land would expand under the plan. Uniting under the hashtag #OromoProtests, citizens of the region organized to make their concerns known: The re-zoning plan would constitute an effective government takeover of their land, yet another blow to their autonomy and livelihood after years of ongoing repression.

In January, however, the Ethiopian government announced it would abandon the Master Plan following the deaths of an estimated 140 protesters in clashes with federal security forces. The televised government statement, which has since been removed from the state media where it was originally aired, cited a “lack of transparency” and “huge respect” for the Oromo people as reasons for the decision to scrap the widely opposed plan. But activists — and Lilesa himself — contend the plan was just one flash point in Oromos’ ongoing struggle for equal rights.

The presiding political coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), rose to power in May 1991. Before the May 2015 elections, the EPRDF, led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, held all but one seat in the nation’s 546-seat parliament. Amid widespread claims of intimidation and suppression of media, the coalition secured a landslide victory, claiming every single seat. Many opposition leaders contend that the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front party, which represents Ethiopia’s Tigrayan minority (approximately 6% of the population), holds all the power within the ruling EPRDF coalition — and by extension, within the country. The Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, another one of the EPRDF coalition’s four parties, is viewed by many as a comparatively toothless group.

The Oromos have found an unlikely ally in the Amhara, the nation’s second-largest ethnic group. The Amhara comprise about 27% of the population; together, the groups account for about 62% of Ethiopia’s estimated 100 million people. After over a century of oscillating tensions, the two ethnic groups are coming together to protest what they say is shared repression under a Tigrayan-led government and the #AmharaProtests movementhas been rapidly gaining steam. Many people, Lilesa included, note that the groups’ unprecedented union against the EPRDF could portend “Rwanda-like” ethnic conflict in the country.

Lilesa said he has been bearing witness to ongoing discontent in Oromia since well before this round of protests. Born just a year before the EPRDF came into power, he grew up seeing the repression of his people — so helping protesters came as second nature to him.

“People are being exiled from the place I was born, so I tried to do what little I can to help; sometimes I give them my shoes or a little money,” he said. “But after I started doing that, people told me the government had become suspicious of me. Because I trained in the countryside, I feared they could come at any moment and just snatch me.”

Lilesa during the men’s marathon post-race press conference. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

It’s part of what made him take his protest to the Olympic stage, pushed by a growing sense that only international intervention would change the situation in Ethiopia for the better. Protesters and opposition forces had been agitating for so long and facing only violence in return because their pleas were not heard by international press, he insisted.

“I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I didn’t make that gesture,” he said. “I knew that the media would be watching, and the world will finally see and hear the cry of my people.”

“We just want peace, we just want equality,” Lilesa said. “That’s why people are still protesting. Even if [the government] says there is no Master Plan anymore, they are still killing us.”

Human rights organizations estimate state forces have killed over 500 protesters in the last year, with elections taking place against a backdrop of “restrictions on civil society, the media and the political opposition, including excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, the disruption of opposition campaigns, and the harassment of election observers from the opposition.”


From the minute Lilesa crossed his wrists as he crossed the finish line in Rio, things moved quickly. He says the moments immediately following his gesture still feel like a blur of cameras and rapid-fire questions from journalists, but he remembers his fellow Ethiopian athletes’ embrace as he left the Olympic Village vividly.

“The athletes cried. They sent me off with tears,” he said. “I’m usually not the kind of person that cries, but they actually made me cry, saying goodbye.”

“The federation officials knew that they would get in trouble if they spoke with me or if they helped me,” he continued. “They gave me some signs and gestures but that was really it because they could not really do much because they presumably had concerns for their safety.”

T-shirts made for Lilesa’s welcoming ceremonyHannah Giorgis / BuzzFeed News

Within hours of his protest, a GoFundMe page to support Lilesa and his family was launched and exceeded both its initial $10,000 goal and the subsequent $40,000 goal. It has since raised a total of over $160,000, much of which has been set aside for Lilesa’s legal expenses. Oromo friends like Bayissa Gemechu, a sports agent who had just left Rio after his wife Tigist Tufa competed in the women’s marathon a week earlier, raced back to his side. By the time Gemechu arrived back in Rio to meet Lilesa, the US embassy had already heard of his case — and made the decision to allow him to apply for a special skills visa into the country from Rio instead of insisting he return to Ethiopia to do so.

Bonnie Holcomb, an American anthropologist who has been closely involved with the Oromo community since living in Oromia during the last years of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the early ’70s, also played an integral role in supporting Lilesa from the US and facilitating his contact with Brazilians who would ensure his safety. Holcomb, the co-author of a book investigating Ethiopia’s political history, reached out to Brazilian friends who helped shepherd Lilesa’s visa application process.

The Brazilian couple contacted their local friends, who then worked quickly to support Lilesa, sending officials from the foreign ministry to take him to the airport and begin his temporary visa application to stay in Brazil. Fearing he would be sought by Ethiopian authorities, Lilesa had left the Olympic Village immediately. Alone in his hotel, he was terrified when the Brazilian officials knocked on his door.

But when the Brazilian officials entered the room, they greeted him with smiles instead of the violence or the detainment he’d feared — and took him for coffee. On the car ride to the airport, he called friends in the US to inform them he was safe. By the time he made it to the US embassy after securing his temporary Brazilian visa, Lilesa was surprised by his newfound celebrity among Brazilians and how excited people were to see his medal.

Fearing he would be sought by Ethiopian authorities, Lilesa had left the Olympic Village immediately.

“People were fascinated and they wanted to touch it and they wanted to look at it,” he said. “There was a moment when everybody stopped working and they were just lining up to look at the medal and that sort of made me realize that this is a big deal.”

Gemechu saw the warm reception firsthand when he walked around Rio with Lilesa: “Most of the time we were outside around the beach, and a lot of people there, they watched [him] on the TV and media, so we had fun. They said ‘Oromo!’” he recalled while raising his hands above his head to replicate the now-famous gesture. Stopping to high-five Lilesa periodically on the street, they heralded him as a champion of resistance whose symbolic act spoke to communities well beyond his own people. This support didn’t make up for being away from his wife and two young children, but it helped sustain him for the long, lonely journey ahead.

Lilesa at a press conference in Washington, DC, on Sept. 13, 2016. T.J. Kirkpatrick for BuzzFeed News

A conference at Washington, DC’s Phoenix Park Hotel on September 13 was an opportunity for Lilesa to keep attention on the issue he’d brought to the world stage at Rio and his second big hurdle after arriving in the United States. Earlier in the day he had held his first news conference outside the US Capitol, where he implored Congress members to intervene on behalf of the Ethiopian people. Congressman Chris Smith later announced the introduction of House Resolution 861, “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.”

Stepping up to the podium, Lilesa immediately thanked the journalists in the DC hotel’s conference room, noting that freedom of speech is not a right he takes lightly. The urgency of the protests had been suppressed by state-run Ethiopian media and largely ignored by the West — until, of course, Lilesa.

“We Oromo have not had access to you in the media,” he told journalists through an interpreter, OPride.com founder and editor Mohammed Ademo. “We have been cut off from you. We have not had a free press in our country.”

Ethiopia has come under fire for restricting journalists’ freedoms in recent years. Ahead of the May 2015 elections, government forces had tamped down on dissidents, most notably charging nine bloggers and journalists with terrorism and arresting eight of them under the guise of the 2009 anti-terrorism law (one member residing in the US was charged in absentia).


Lilesa’s first language, like many other Oromo people, is Afaan Oromo. He speaks Amharic in a soft, self-conscious cadence. Lilesa is at his most vibrant when he speaks in Afaan Oromo, especially with the runners who approached him after the press conference. They came to him with beaming smiles, ushering him into hugs to thank him for his gesture. He was visibly relieved to be alongside people who are almost family. Among them was Demssew Tsega, a marathoner who has been in the US for seven months now. Tsega also testified at the news conference announcing House Resolution 861 on Capitol Hill.

One day last December, Tsega wound up amid a crowd of peaceful protesters on his way home from training for the marathon in Sululta, a city 20 miles north of Addis Ababa. Along with four other athletes, Tsega joined the protest. When government security forces came to apprehend protesters, three runners got away — but Tsega and another teammate didn’t.

“Because I’m a runner and the security forces recognized me since they’d seen me on TV before, they were especially keen on capturing me,” he told me in Amharic in October. “They jailed me for two days and tortured me on my feet so I couldn’t run anymore.”

Lilesa with runners Ketema Amensisa and Demssew Tsega, advocate Obang Metho, and runner Bilisuma Shugi Courtesy of Andrea Barron

Upon his release, Tsega did not seek treatment for his injuries at the local hospital because it’s run by the government.

“I was afraid they would arrest me again if I went to the hospital,” he said. “Before I lived with my family in Addis Ababa, but after [my arrest and torture] I hid in the countryside.”

When the notice that Tsega had met the minimum qualification to compete in the marathon arrived, he was conflicted. With injured feet, he had no hope of racing, and it seemed all his training had been for nothing. But he took the opportunity to secure a visa and came to the United States, knowing it was his only shot at accessing treatment for his injuries and one day racing again.

“They’re still looking for me now,” he said. “[The government] still harasses my father; they took our land.”

Sitting next to Tsega at a downtown Silver Spring restaurant, fellow long distance runner Ketema Amensisa sighs. Before the government took 75% of their land, Amensisa’s family had 20 cows in Gebre Guracha, a central Ethiopian town in the North Shewa region of Oromia. Stripped of their primary means of income, the family of subsistence farmers has been struggling to survive since.

“We miss our country,” Amensisa said. “When we don’t have any other options as a people, we stand beside the government because we fear for our safety if we say otherwise.”

The two runners paused their stories intermittently to check in on Momina Aman, a teammate who arrived later in our conversation. Tsega mentioned repeatedly that he wants to take her to TASSC, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, the organization that’s been helping him access medical care for his foot, immigration support, and psychological care.

“I came to this country because Ethiopia’s government killed my father, stepmother, my sisters, and my brothers.”

“I came to this country because Ethiopia’s government killed my father, stepmother, my sisters, and my brothers,” Aman said through tears. “The rest of my brothers and I were only spared because we were in Addis Ababa.”

“We were in Addis Ababa when we got the call that our family had been killed,” she continued. “Recently another one of my brothers was beaten and left to die by government security forces.”

Aman’s brother was one of the 2 million attendees of this year’s Irreecha celebration the first weekend of October. Irreecha, the annual thanksgiving holiday that marks the shift from Ethiopia’s rainy season to the warmth and bounty of the dry months at the end of September, draws crowds of up to 4 million from across Ethiopia to the town of Bishoftu, about 25 miles southeast of Addis Ababa, to pray and sing alongside the crater lake Hora Arsadi. The festivities are filled with color and calm, an opportunity to reflect on the changing seasons and their attendant harvests.

But this year’s Irreecha took place against the backdrop of heightened police presence in Oromia. State forces encircled festivalgoers, eventually firing a mixture of tear gas and bullets into the crowd after attendees began reciting chants associated with the #OromoProtests movement that has grown in the region in the last year. Some reportsestimate up to 678 people were killed between authorities’ violence and the resultant stampede.

When reports first emerged that the festival had turned violent, Aman stayed up all night trying to call her brother. She reached him in the morning, relieved to hear he was shaken but safe.

The festival’s deadly turn was covered widely in international press, despite the Ethiopian government’s control of state-run media in the country. Questions about Ethiopia’s future as beacon of the once-promising “Africa rising” narrative surfaced again in the West, pointing not only to the massacre but also to the simple gesture that put enough attention on Ethiopia for its people’s suffering to even matter outside the continent.

Immediately after the bloodshed at Irreecha, the government declared a three-day period of mourning. One week later, it announced a six-month “state of emergency,” under which the army was deployed nationwide and access to social media and mobile internet indefinitely suspended. In three weeks, over 2,000 people were detained for participating in anti-government protests, which government officials blamed on “foreign anti-peace forces” from neighboring Eritrea and Egypt.

“They laid their actions bare,” Lilesa said of the state of emergency. “But there’s nothing new here.”

A celebration of Irreecha held in Maryland the morning after the bloodshed in Ethiopia. Hannah Giorgis / BuzzFeed News

Even amid the uncertainty of the government’s state of emergency, Lilesa remains a beacon of hope for runners like Tsega, Amensisa, and Aman — and for Oromo people around the world.

In the time between Lilesa’s protest and his arrival in the US, two more Ethiopian runners had repeated the gesture as they crossed finish lines around the world. On August 29, Ebisa Ejigu won the Quebec City Marathon and followed in Lilesa’s footsteps. On September 11 — Ethiopian New Year — Tamiru Demisse did the same as he claimed the silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter T-13 race at the Paralympics in Rio.

Even those who have not protested themselves see Lilesa’s actions as a path forward, an opportunity to rally around one another especially as Ethiopia’s government continues its crackdown. It’s an act they see as fundamentally patriotic: If he didn’t love his country, he wouldn’t want it to be better.

For Tsega, Lilesa’s action and the ensuing media attention was a matter of life and death: “I know sports and politics don’t always go together, but when situations are this urgent, it’s something you have to do even if it kills you. Leaving his children, wife, and all his possessions behind, he… I don’t even have the words. He did all that for his country, for his people.”

“I know it was hard to say that,” Amensisa added. “But after Feyisa did it, he opened up a new path for us.”

All of them are hopeful for the potential of Lilesa’s spotlight on the issue to attract more international intervention in the area — especially from the US, long a military ally of Ethiopia. In the weekend following his arrival in the US alone, there were over 60 news stories on Lilesa and the Oromo protests.

Many of them called for the US government to halt aid to Ethiopia until the totalitarian nature of security measures in the country are addressed. Some of the sanctions being sought by the community are reflected in Congressman Smith’s House Resolution 861 and the identical 21-cosponsor Senate resolution introduced in April.

But Lilesa’s impact reverberates far beyond runners’ circles, community events, and the dense Ethiopian population of the DC metro area. As conversations about athletes’ political voices continue to gain steam following Kaepernick’s silent protest of the American national anthem, Lilesa remains a lightning rod for a community divided by both politics and geography.

On Twitter, the hashtag bearing his name is most often used to share updates on news regarding the community at large. Facebook and Viber — when not being axed by the government — remain digital organizing hubs. And on Snapchat, a massively popular channel for Ethiopian and Eritrean youth held a discussion about Oromo politics earlier this month while one of its hosts wore a shirt printed with Lilesa’s name and face.

“How could I feel the same comfort I did before? How could I feel happiness?”

“BunaTime” (taken from the Amharic word for coffee) draws an average of 15,000 views per Snapchat story, and Ethiopian and Eritrean youth from around the diaspora take turns hosting it for several hours at a time. Its attendant Twitter and Instagram channels boast almost 10,000 and 37,000 followers respectively.

The Oromo-led Snapchat teach-in drew both excitement and ire from young viewers. But hosts were clear: Lilesa, and the #OromoProtests, are the future — not just for the Oromo community, but for all of Ethiopia.

And Lilesa is committed to keeping his career going, despite the complications. He has been training in Arizona since last month. The choice to head west was made partly because of the state’s altitude, and partly, Gemechu joked, because “he don’t like snow.” Lilesa had briefly considered Kenya as another training location, but fears that the Kenyan government’s close relationship with Ethiopia’s would lead to his extradition kept him from pursuing that option. He would’ve been closer to his family, but recent developments in Ethiopia reinforce his decision to stay away from the region.

“The crisis puts [runners] in a position where we can’t focus on our training,” he said. “If this continues without any change, Ethiopia may not win as many medals as it used to.”

Lilesa won’t be running in the New York City Marathon in November, but he has plans to run in both December’s Honololu Marathon and next April’s race in London. The return to the sport he loves has left him energized, but tensions flaring up back home — and his own distance — continue to sap him of energy.

“I left my country and I live in a strange country,” he said when we spoke recently. “How could I feel the same comfort I did before? How could I feel happiness?”

Lilesa photographed on September 13, 2016. T.J. Kirkpatrick for BuzzFeed News

Both his own future and that of his country feel tenuous at the moment, a heavy sense of both revolutionary excitement and dread hanging over both. Lilesa speaks to his wife and children regularly, but hasn’t seen any of them since August 17. “I don’t feel weight on myself since I did what I did, because I believed in it,” he said. “But I do worry about my family back home.”

He was careful and exacting when speaking of his 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son in hushed tones: “I don’t want to look at my children any differently from others in my country who are being killed,” Lilesa said. “They face the same fate and the same destiny like all other children in Ethiopia.”

He knows he cannot return to them until the political situation changes, but hopes now that he will one day be able to see them in the US if it doesn’t. The decision to live here for now — even and especially in exile — weighs on him, a sense of guilt pervading his words as he responds to the fact that Oromos around the world now consider him a hero.

“The one who leaves isn’t a hero,” he said recently. “Heroes are the ones who go and fight alongside the people.”

Cultural Survival: Human Rights of Ethiopia’s Oromo People Brought to Light in Rio September 25, 2016

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Human Rights of Ethiopia’s Oromo People Brought to Light in Rio

Cultural Survival, 23 September 2016


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Photo courtesy of: ctj71081/ Flickr


On August 21st, in Brazil, Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa was awarded the silver medal for the Men’s Marathon in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Although this was perhaps one of the greatest sporting achievements of his life, this day will forever be remembered for the political protest he made just before the finish line.  While in the global spotlight,  Lilesa raised his hands above his head in an ‘X’ formation to stand in solidarity with the Oromo people of Ethiopia, who have suffered a crackdown at the hands of the Ethiopian government.

Lilesa is one of the thousands fighting for the rights of the Oromo people. In August 2016, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, called on Ethiopia to allow UN international observers to investigate the excessive use of force by the government’s security forces against peaceful protesters in the Oromo and Amhara regions of the country. There is a strong need for organized international pressure on the Ethiopian government. A credible and independent investigation into this country’s Human Rights offences is long overdue. This will be a huge and very welcome step for the people and the country as a whole.

More on Oromo Abuses Here

Human rights abuses have been prevalent throughout Ethiopia’s history, but for the last nine months, protests have erupted in Oromiya, the homeland of Ethiopia’s largest but historically marginalized ethnic group, the Oromo, of which Feyisa Lilesa belongs. The protests are have now spread north, to a second region, the Amhara.

Although these protesters from Oromo and Amhara have different backgrounds, cultures, and complaints, they share a growing fear and frustration with the rule of a third, minority ethnic group — the Tigrayans. As NPR reported, the Tigrayan elite has a “cartel-like grip on the government, military and the fast-growing economy.”  The Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) forcefully rose to power after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, there have been numerous human rights violations, with examples like the 2001 killing of forty Addis Ababa university students for simply demanding the academic freedom to publish a student newspaper, to the Killing of 200 Oromo in 2014, according to the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE).

Related: Learn more about the TPLF in Ethiopia here.

The right of peaceful assembly is protected in Ethiopian and International law. Ethiopia’s Constitution states “everyone shall have the freedom, in association with others, to peaceably assemble without arms, engage in public demonstration and the right to petition.” But, after Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 125 witnesses, victims, and government officials, a significant pattern of human rights violations during peaceful Oromo protests was revealed. Examples from late 2015 when the decision of authorities in Ginchi to clear a forest for an investment project triggered protests in at least 400 different locations across all the 17 zones in Oromia, until May 2016, and even into current times, prove there have been massive human rights violations. Numerous reports exposed that in many locations security forces have gone at night, arresting innocent and unsuspecting members of the community such as students and those accommodating students in their homes. Security forces also strategically target those seen as “influential members of the Oromo community, such as musicians, teachers, opposition members and others thought to have the ability to mobilize the community for further protests.” Even more shocking, is that many of those arrested and detained by the security forces were children of eighteen years and younger. Security forces have also been reported to open fire on, and kill peaceful protesters, as well as torture or beat many of the detained Oromo. Many of the females detained have reportedly been raped by security force personnel, while almost none of the detainees have had access to legal counsel, adequate food, or their family members.

An unnamed student said in an interview with HRW on January of 2016, said his friend “was shot in the stomach [at the protest], his intestines were coming out, he said, ‘Please brother, tie my [wound] with your clothes.’ I was scared, I froze and then tried to do that but I was grabbed and arrested by the federal police. Jamal died. They arrested me and took me to Bedeno police station.”

With ongoing events such as these, the people of Ethiopia have appeared to have reached their limit; the brutal force being used by the regime to deter an uprising is starting to backfire, creating new alliances between previously divided groups of Ethiopians such as the Oromo and the Amhara. The regime, struggling to find ways to retain domination, resorts to solutions like the exploitation of Ethiopian resources, land, and opportunities; but this too, is becoming a regime failure.

A press release from The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE)notes, this is a regime, accustomed to using tools like manipulation to divide the people by ethnicity or other differences, furthering ethnic hatred, alienation and isolation, leaving a niche for the regime to squeeze into. It has allowed them to repeatedly commit fatal human rights atrocities against these groups with no fear of a united retaliation; but this is suddenly changing. These methods of turning selected ethnic groups against one another, is being scrutinized by Ethiopians; and previously rival groups are now unifying to challenge it. As SMNE said, “more killing, wounding and use of violence against unarmed civilians on the part of the regime’s security forces are strengthening, not weakening, the movement of the people,” but the movement is just beginning.

Ethiopia’s government has rejected the call for UN intervention and promised to launch its own investigation according to Al Jazeera. With the TPLF now facing a crack in the current power structure of the country,  the government’s resistance to UN intervention was to be expected. The fearful reality is, however, that the TPLF, power hungry, and corrupt, will continue to use illegal force in an attempt to maintain control. But this lack of legal and transparent investigation of human rights violations in Ethiopia strongly implies that the Ethiopian government’s investigation of the ongoing human rights crisis will not be independent, impartial and transparent, and according to Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “It is time to step up efforts for an international and independent investigation in Ethiopia.”
For years the government has worked to project a “forward thinking, democratic, and economically progressive image” of Ethiopia to outsiders, while on the inside, achieving the total opposite. For example, laws such as the Charities and Societies Proclamation law (CSO) which is meant to appear as an advocacy network, actually has criminalized human rights and other kinds of advocacy work in Ethiopia, making an equal and  civil society impossible to maintain in Ethiopia. This makes the presence of an independent organization like the UN crucial for the protection of the Oromo people, who are practically inhibited from seeking protection themselves.

According to the Press Release from SMNE, “meaningful democratic reforms, restorative justice, and reconciliation for all the people of Ethiopia, including the current ruling party,” are the essential measures which need to be enacted if Ethiopia is to find peace and avoid total disaster. History shows that the government will not cooperate without pressure from key donor nations such as the the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Norway, Sweden etc., as well as from major international human rights organizations, to provide leverage critical in obtaining substantial changes for the rights of the Oromo people and governmental structure of Ethiopia as a whole.


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Star Tribune: Oromo Olympian draws big crowd at his Minneapolis appearance September 19, 2016

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 Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa on the Guardian. #OrompProtests global icon p1

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Fayyisaa’s welcoming moment at Minneapolis Convention center.


Kun Simannaa Fayyisaa Leellisaaf hawaasti Oromoo Minisootaatiin, Fulbaana 18, 2016.
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Star Tribune: Oromo Olympian draws big crowd at his Minneapolis appearance

Marathon silver medalist seen as a hero for his running as well as his political statement.
oromo-olympian-fayyisaa-leellisaa-feyisa-lilesa-draws-big-crowd-at-his-minneapolis-appearance-18-september-2016

TOM WALLACE, STAR TRIBUNE: Oromo (Ethiopian) Olympian Feyisa Lilesa entered the Minneapolis Convention Center Sunday, Sept 18, 2016 to a crowd of about 1000 well wishers. He won the silver medal in the 2016 Games in Rio and crossed the finish line with his arms crossed in an X, symbolizing the plight of the Oromo in Ethiopia.


Lilesa, 26, became a hero to his people and brought global attention to the plight of the Oromo in Ethiopia when he crossed his arms to form the letter X above his head as he crossed the finish line at the Rio Games.

He did the same as he entered the auditorium Sunday and the crowd erupted in cheers.

The Oromo Community of Minnesota said more than 100 Oromo people were killed in Ethiopia in August alone while peacefully protesting the government’s persecution of the ethnic group.

Lilesa, who faces jail if he returns home, has been granted a special skills visa to the United States so he can train and compete. His wife, 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter remain in Ethiopia.

His visit to Minneapolis was sponsored by the Oromo Community of Minnesota, headquartered in St. Paul. The group estimates that up to 40,000 Oromo people are living in Minnesota, but the state demographer’s office puts that number closer to 8,500.


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WBEZ Radio: Wordview: Ethiopian Olympic Runner Protests for Oromo August 28, 2016

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Fayyisaa lalisaa Oromo national hero, After received his Rio 2016 Olympic medal, 21 August 2016Fayyisaa lalisaa Oromo national hero, at  Rio 2016 Olympicmarathon in the podium, finishing line in #OromoProtests as winning theOlympic  medal, 21 August 2016

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa in the social and international media. #OrompProtests global icon. p7

Click here to Listen to WBEZ Radio:  The Olympic Runner Protests for Oromo

As Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finish line to win the silver medal in Rio, he crossed his raised arms in an act of defiance against the Ethiopian government’s treatment of the Oromo people. We talk about Lilesa’s protest with Oromo activist, Seenaa Jimjimo.

The Irish Times: The Question: Can the Olympics ever be apolitical? August 27, 2016

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The Question: Can the Olympics ever be apolitical?

Feyisa Lilesa’s solidarity sign to Ethopians is the latest political act at a games


 

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa on the Guardian. #OrompProtests global icon p1

Feyisa Lilesa: the marathon runner’s gesture in Rio recalled the Black Power raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico in 1968.


On the final day of the Rio Olympics, as the Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finishing line in second place, he raised his arms above his head and crossed his wrists in an X.

The simple gesture was a highly political act, a sign of solidarity with the Oromo protests that have convulsed Ethiopia in recent months. The runner is from the Oromia region, where protests about land rights have mushroomed in to a larger civil-rights movement. This has prompted a ruthless government crackdown, leaving hundreds of unarmed protesters dead.

The crossed-wrists gesture has become a symbol of defiance.

As well as raising the international profile of the Oromo protests, the gesture has changed Lilesa’s life: he says he cannot safely return home, despite government assurances to the contrary, and has remained in Brazil as he seeks asylum elsewhere.

As well as raising the international profile of the Oromo protests, the gesture has changed Lilesa’s life: he says he cannot safely return home, despite government assurances to the contrary, and has remained in Brazil as he seeks asylum elsewhere.

Like Smith and Carlos before him, Lilesa has been criticised for “politicising” the games, which like to think of themselves as an apolitical sphere of human co-operation and goodwill. Indeed, the International Olympic Committee’s rule 50 imposes conditions on host nations prohibiting political signs and demonstrations.

After a number of peaceful protesters were ejected from arenas, a Brazilian judge ruled that the conditions were in violation of the Brazilian constitution. The organisers appealed the ruling.

Controlling which platforms can and cannot be used for political messages is a privilege of the powerful, of course. For Lilesa the moment he crossed the finishing line with the world watching is not merely the only platform he has but also by far the largest platform the Oromo people have.

Lilesa may have discomfited the IOC and put himself in danger, but in doing so he reclaimed part of that elusive Olympic spirit.


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DW: Sports: My Picture of the Week – Symbol of protest in Rio. #OromoProtests August 27, 2016

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Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa on the Guardian. #OrompProtests global icon p1

After crossing the finishing line in Rio Olympics, the Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed his hands over his head. #DWMyPic takes a look at this symbol of anti-government protest in Ethiopia. DW Journalist Merga Yonas Bula says that silver medalist Feyisa has risked his life and family by making this gesture of solidarity with the Oromo Protests. Click here for more ‘My Picture of the Week – Symbol of protest in Rio’ at DW.