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Feyisa Lilesa at the awards ceremony in Rio © Getty Images/E.Shaw
Image: Getty Images/E.Shaw

Feyisa Lilesa: 'Athletes need to speak out'

Interview: Hanna Demissie/myb
August 25, 2016

In Rio, he was running for Ethiopia. In addition to the silver medal he won, it was also the gesture of Oromo protest that made Feyisa Lilesa famous. He spoke to DW about the reactions and his plans for the future.


On crossing the finishing line in the marathon in Rio, Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms in a symbolic protest against the repressive Ethiopian regime. According to human rights groups, Ethiopian security forces have killed scores of people in recent weeks as authorities crack down on a wave of anti-government unrest in two key regions, central-western Oromia and Amhara in the north. Lilesa has been telling DW about reactions to his protest and his plans for the future.

DW: How are you, Feyisa?

Feyisa Lilesa: Now I am in a good condition. I am very happy for showing this gesture. Luckily, nothing physical has happened to me.

How do you view the support expressed by other Ethiopians? Were you expecting that kind of support?

No, I was not expecting that such a thing could happen. I just showed what I felt, but I did not expect that they would support me like this. I feel great pride. Right now, many people from Ethiopia and abroad have called me and have also written on my Facebook page, showing me that they are with me. I never imagined this, but I am happy. I want to thank them for what they have done. Currently our people in Ethiopia are in danger, so I suggest they continue their protests and keep raising their voices. At this time that is what needs to be done. So I want to encourage them to finish what they started.

Have you displayed this kind of courage in your earlier life? Were you the outspoken one who talked for his family?

Courage? I don't know. I leave that to other people to decide. My family has seven children and I am the second oldest. My older sister still lives in our birthplace. She did not receive any education and she is married there. Since my other siblings were born after me, I was the only one who helped them, the one who sent them to school and supported them all along.

Lilesa crosses his wrists in a sign of protest © Getty Images/AFP/O. Morin
The gesture that put Lilesa in the spotlightImage: Getty Images/AFP/O. Morin

You are seeking asylum in the US now. How is that progressing?

It is progressing well. But nothing is finished as yet. In the meantime, I am still staying in Rio.

Do you have a message for your fellow Ethiopian athletes or other sportsmen and women?

What I want to say is that athletes like me, who have the chance to go abroad for competition, when they get such an international stage like this and win, they need to speak out, make a gesture to protest the condition of our people, just like I did.

Feyisa Lilesa won the silver medal in the marathon in the Rio Olympics. He is now seeking asylum in the US.

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