From Rio to America, I will keep fighting Ethiopia’s oppression: Feyisa Lilesa

As he crossed the finish line in Rio, Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa made a statement of protest, honoring the plight of his people back home. Now fearing retribution for him and his family, Lilesa continues to speak out, despite an uncertain future.

By Feyisa Lilesa | for Washington Post,

On Aug. 21, when I reached the finish line of the men’s marathon at the Olympics in Rio, I crossed my fists above my head. This is sign of peaceful protest used by my people, the Oromo, for the past 10 months. I did it to raise awareness; hundreds of my fellow Ethiopians have been killed by security forces only because they peacefully protested against injustice. I knew there were millions of people watching the Olympics, and I wanted the world to see me. I want to tell the world what is happening in Ethi­o­pia — in Oromia, Amhara, Ogaden, Gambella and elsewhere.

I know if I go back to Ethiopia I will be killed, arrested or put on a list of people never allowed to leave the country again. Ethiopia’s government spokesperson made a comment in the media that I would be safe. But government security forces have killed hundreds for just doing what I did. Crossing my wrists in Rio has already had a great impact on my life; I am now separated from my dear mother, my supportive wife and my precious children in Ethi­o­pia, whom I miss dearly. I am here safely in the United States on a special skills visa for the time being.

ilesa-xAs I was preparing for Olympic competition, my thoughts were always preoccupied with the suffering of my people. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group. The Ethiopian coffee that Americans drink comes mostly from my region. We are also well known for our long-distance runners.

Peaceful protests against the government started in November when the government was forcing Oromo farmers off their land and selling it to foreign investors. Since then, human rights reports say more than 500 people have been gunned down by the security forces, but I believe at least twice as many have been killed. This includes at least 12 people that I know from my home district of Jaldu in Oromia. Tens of thousands have been arrested. Families do not know what happened to their sons and daughters after they were taken by the army and police.

While training for the Olympics, I feared for my security, because of some philanthropic work I was doing to help young Oromo students who I knew had no opportunities. I was afraid that someone could even jump out from the bushes and take my life while I was out running alone. I have not had a day when I could put my mind and body in sync to focus entirely on my training.

Recently while I was in Rio, a huge fire broke out at Qilinto prison outside of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s famous political prisoners were there awaiting trial, some for months or years. Others were held without being charged. Local media reported that gunfire could be heard before and during the fire. A week ago, I received the news that my close friend, Kebede Fayissa, was killed during that incident. His charred body was sent back to his family. He was arrested on Aug. 6 for protesting. I suffer knowing that I was preparing to go to the Olympics in Rio while Kebede was being arrested for doing the same thing I did — standing up for our people. Now he is gone.

The Oromo just want their full rights like any other people. They want justice, they want free speech, they want government accountability, they want a free press, they want full participation in the political process and for their constitutional rights to be respected and protected by their government. Yes, we protest, but ours is a peaceful protest.

But things are getting worse in Ethiopia. I fear for what could happen in the future. Our grievances have not been heard in the rest of the world because the government has blocked communication. Here is my question: Can nonviolence succeed if no one hears our voices or sees our protests? We all yearn for peace, but the government continues its attacks. I fear that if the killing does not stop, people could abandon nonviolence in self-defense.

My country is an important ally of the United States. We in Ethiopia and people around the world see America as a beacon of democracy and promoter of human rights. Allies should not let allies commit the abuses that happen in Ethiopia every day. I don’t think that the United States wants Ethiopia to disintegrate. I am asking the U.S. government to demand an explanation from Ethi­o­pia and to condemn the brutal and unfair actions of the government. The United States needs to push hard for democracy in Ethiopia. I think that is the only thing that will keep my country together.

I have no plans to initiate contact with the Ethiopian government, and no one from the government has reached out to me. If the government desires to have contact with me, it should free all political prisoners. It should also free those who have been arrested without even being involved in politics at all. That includes freeing all Oromo, Amhara and those from other nations and nationalities who have been unjustly detained.

I’m a runner, not a scholar or politician. But I know that all people yearn for fairness and justice. I will continue to race and pursue my career, and I will speak out until the Oromo and others in Ethiopia find justice.

15 thoughts on “From Rio to America, I will keep fighting Ethiopia’s oppression: Feyisa Lilesa

  1. You definitely lived up to his profession. He’s a runner and a coward. Throwing up an X won’t win you your freedom. If you’re man enough, come take it like the TPLF did to the Derg. We won’t give up power easily and you’ll have to fight for it.

    1. There are enough Oromo, Amhara & other people’s of Ethiopia that will be taking the fight to the 6%clique. They have the support of Eritrea & other peace loving people in the region & beyond.

    2. Imagine if one man, Feyisa Lisessa,, could rock the very foundation of of the handful Malelit, what would the 90,000,000 Ethiopians are just about to do. It is time for the Ethiopians to clean Ethiopia from the scum of the human race, the Weyane,

      Here they are the Weyane running out of Ethiopia for the Ethiopians have come to claim the home,

      1. So you want the 90 mio Ethiopians to destroy their nation so the woyane who have locked you in a prison called no peace no war can be destroyed, so you can come free and continue your robbing of Ethiopia’s riches just like in the 90ies were you bought Ethiopian coffee by birr and then exported it and gut so much dollar that in that time Eritrea was just after Nigeria the nation holding the biggest foreign currency reserv in south Saharan Africa, you crock….

    3. Beautiful Asmara & Addis Ababa · Edit

      Arogance is not the way to go, that has been proven to be wrong for the last twenty five years now the Oromo’s and the Amharas have come to the point where they have lost hope for an equal right to all ethiopian’s including the poor people of Tigrai, the Tigaru didn’t wan the war alone against Derg they had an unforgettable help from Shabia and the corrupted Derg General’s who have made TPLF to win the war but that doesn’t mean the Tigaru,Oromo and Amharas were not less Hiros than any one else in tplf and the time was right to win over an over exousted miletery who have been abandoned by it’s Leaders in Addis.if every peaceful dimonisrtation is blamed on Eriteria and one only one ethnic group are the only Hiros in Ethiopia nemely the Tigaru as you my dear compatriot would like to put it you would have taken a miletery action on Eriteria to eliminate the enemy of yours once and for good but the thing is you certenly know your limitation.
      God bless Ethiopia & Eriteria.

  2. Dear Mr. Lilesa. Great Job! I personally would have liked you to be a little forceful with your demands from the US. This was you big opportunity to educate the general American public how years of US policies have caused this mess in your country. Besides, I am not sure how on earth do your lawyers/advisers think the US could push for democracy with the current regime in power? Think about it, Mr. Lilesa. You are now more than a runner sir, a hero to millions of Ethiopians. Please do not squander this visibility you now have to bring about real change in Ethiopia. Woyanes are killing more people each day. Remember, in this fast moving world, most high profile people only have one or two chance to make big things happen. You sir, you may have a 3rd one and I hope you do. Please use it quickly and wisely. Victory to you and your fellow Ethiopians

  3. “If i return to Ethiopia, they will kill me”. May God have mercy on the toxic diaspora for taking our hero and making him read paragraphs from Jawar speech. What kills most of us Ethiopians, with all the talking, laptop purchsing, facebook and twitter accounts tagging people with false info, nothing came out of it except making EPRDF stronger. This hero now lost his ways and asking silly questions like, release terrorists? Any logical Ethiopian will see it as just what it is, a very good PR stunt to confuse people paid by ESAT, Shabo and gim7. They only made their life a bit shorter.

    1. You are back sintik…hallucinating as ever? You say “logical Ethiopian” I guess that will be the dwindling 6% right …funny guy.

    2. Blaming the peaceful protest by this runner on Shaebia. TPLF has dirty underwear, blame that on Shaebia. TPLF logic, lets shoot & kill over 500 peaceful protesters & if the people get mad about dying blame it on Eritrea. Did Eritrea tell your dumb asses to kill those peaceful protesters. When Amharu & Oromo kick TPLF from power, who are they going to blame… Eritrea. Cry me a river, nobody cares what lies come out your mouth lying Weyane.

    3. When a first class athlete like him do a gesture, he becomes an icon and a model to his country fellow, this should give you an alarm that your time ayte sentiq is END, from now on word in your own bed you’ll get hallucinating dream about how they’ll hunt’ll see the progress, this is just a start, the irreversible error you did, was to believe “on very far friendship against your own people and neighbor hood” CIAO

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