When Ethiopia's long-distance runner Feyisa Lilesa raised his hands at the marathon finish line on Sunday, he was not just celebrating his silver medal in the men’s race — he was showing support to the Oromo tribe back home, whose members have been brutally gunned down by the government.
The athlete crossed his wrists high above his head as a sign of protest against the killings and arrests.
It was a powerful moment, but the brave gesture, as he later revealed, could get him killed when he returns to Ethiopia.
“If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If I am not killed maybe they will put me in prison,” Lilesa said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “[If] they [do] not put me in prison they will block me at airport. I have got a decision. Maybe I move to another country.”
As the Human Rights Watch reports, the Oromo protests started as an effort to stop the government from expanding the limits of Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, into the surrounding villages of the country's largest ethnic group — the Oromo people.
Since November 2015, the Ethiopian government has killed an estimated 400 people, while injuring thousands more, for participating in the demonstrations.
“Security forces, according to witnesses, shot into crowds, summarily killing people during mass roundups, and torturing detained protesters,” read the document. “Because primary and secondary school students in Oromia were among the early protesters, many of those arrested or killed were children under the age of 18.”
Law enforcement agencies in Ethiopia have arbitrarily arrested scores of students, teachers, musicians, opposition politicians, health workers and people suspected of providing assistance or shelter to fleeing students.
While many of the detainees have been released, a large number remain in jail without charge or access to legal counsel or family members.
The organization also released a video to highlight the situation in the African nation.
Meanwhile, here’s how social media reacted to Feyisa Lilesa’s historic moment at the Rio Olympics.
Silence is the enemy of Freedom. Feyisa stood up to speak when it was his turn and made his fellow countrymen proud! #OromoProtests— Umar Hassan (@umar1402) August 22, 2016