Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia crossed his arms above his head at the Olympic marathon finish line in Rio on Sunday. It seems harmless, but it’s a protest he says could get him arrested or killed back home.
The hand signal is a protest and sign of solidarity with the Oromo people, who are protesting against the Ethiopian government.
Human rights groups say that Ethiopian security forces have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks as they crack down on anti-government protests, the BBC reports.
Lilesa repeated the protest gesture later at a press conference, saying his life would be in danger if he returned home.
Explaining his actions, Lilesa said:
The Ethiopian government are killing the Oromo people and taking their land and resources so the Oromo people are protesting and I support the protest as I am Oromo.
The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe.
My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest.
If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country.
The Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, have been protesting against the government, demanding political reform, equal economic opportunities, and an end to police violence.
Human rights groups say that Ethiopian security forces have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks as they crack down on anti-government protests – including at least 97 who were killed earlier this month when forces fired bullets at protesters.
The Amhara, the country’s second ethnic group, recently joined the anti-government protests too, Quartz Africa reports.
Asked if he was worried about being sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, Lilesa added: “I cannot do anything about that. This was my feeling. I have a big problem in my country, it is very dangerous to make protest in my country.”
Our thoughts are with Lilesa when and if he returns to Ethiopia.