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Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa crosses his wrists to protest Ethiopian government's crackdown on Oromo people.
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Did he put his life in danger?
SELF-IMPOSED EXILE

The Ethiopian Olympic runner who defied his government has not returned home with the rest of his team

By Lily Kuo

Feyisa Lilesa, the marathon runner who made an anti-government protest gesture during the Olympic Games, has not returned to Ethiopia. Reporters aboard the Ethiopian team’s return flight from Rio yesterday (Aug 24) said Lilesa was not on the plane.

Sports officials did not mention the 26-year-old’s name during a welcome ceremony where government officials greeted the team and decorated them with garlands. Ethiopian state media also omitted mention of him in news reports of the athletes’ return. Lilesa’s agent, Federico Rosa, said the athlete had stayed on in Rio but that he does not know Lilesa’s plans.

During the men’s marathon race on Aug. 21, the last day of the Games, Lilesa held his arms over his head and crossed his wrists as he passed through the finish line, in a sign of solidarity with anti-government protestors. Lilesa is a member of the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group, who have been demonstrating against what they see as the government’s marginalization of their culture and land rights since last year. Recently, the second largest ethnic group, the Amhara, have also joined in.

Afterwards, Lilesa who won silver in the race, said he feared for his life if he were to return, though Ethiopian authorities said he would be welcomed back as a hero. The runner said he was considering extending his stay in Brazil or moving to the United States or Kenya. A crowd funding campaign that claims to be raising money for the athlete and his family has raised almost all of its $150,000 goal.