Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms over his head to protest the mistreatment of his people, the Oromo tribe, at the Rio Olympics.
The Rio Olympics have been a hotbed of protest, but Lilesa may be risking his life with his act of rebellion. Feyisa earned a silver medal in the marathon event and said that he made the gesture as a sign of solidarity with the Oromo people, the largest tribe in Ethiopia that makes up most of the country’s population. Lilesa is from Oromia and is personally affected by the strife caused by the Ethiopian government.
“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.” Lilesa explained at a press conference after the race.
Since November 2015, tensions between the Oromo people and the ruling regime have run high, which initially began when plans were announced to expand the Addis Ababa boundaries into Oromia territory. Reuters confirmed that the plans to move Oromia land were scrapped in January, but protests and uprisings were rekindled in the last month with the execution of protesters in the region.
Lilesa was very aware of the repercussions of speaking out against the Ethiopian government on the world stage of the Olympics. “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.”