Ethiopian Government Honors Feyisa Lilesa 3 Years Later

Feyisa-LilesaApril 10, 2019 ( -- Three years after winning a silver medal for his country at the Rio 2016 Olympics, 29-year-old Feyisa Lilesa has been feted by Abiy’s government. Feyisa caught the world’s attention after winning silver medal and then crossing his wrists in protest of Ethiopian government’s crackdown on Oromos.

He did so in solidarity with the protests that were going on in the Oromo region since November 2015. When interviewed by the press following the gesture, Feyisa said: “the Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all the protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe.”

The Oromo, which is the largest ethnic group in the country, were demanding for equal opportunities, an end to police brutality and political reforms. Amhara, the second ethnic group was also in support of the same.

Feyisa Lilesa was feted alongside others in an event to honor athletes and the coaching staff who took part in the 43rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus in Denmark.
Among those in attendance were Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde, with the winners walking away with certificates and cash rewards.

Lilesa became an emblem of resistance and is credited with advancing the struggle of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. His gesture of crossing his hands above his head was at that time banned under a state of emergency.

When asked about the gesture he made and the possible consequences Lilesa said he feared coming back to Ethiopia because the government would have him killed or jailed.

“They will kill me. If not, they will arrest and charge me.” He told reporters in Rio. He also added that he’d consider asylum to remain in Brazil or go to America or Kenya.

He was granted Asylum by the United States government and was living in Flagstaff, Arizona since 2016. He came back into the country in October last year. His decision to live in exile was informed by the concerns over his life, even though he had been assured by the government he wasn’t going to be punished for his Rio protest.

Upon his return, he told reporters the country had experienced tremendous change. “Now people can freely express their opinions and freely condemn the government,” He said.

“My sympathy goes to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives and gave me the freedom to come to my country and join my family,” said Lilesa.

As reported by, the athlete is considering getting back on the track to represent his country in global competitions. Feyisa is confident he’ll achieve good results, not only for himself but for the country as well.

“I want to go back to my previous performances, I am confident that I will achieve good results for my country and myself.” He said.

While in the U.S, Feyisa Lilesa attended marathons around the world and vowed to continue with the protest if an opportunity to do so presented itself. He was even featured in Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the top-ranked global thinkers.

The political intrigues of 2016 persisted until 2018 when the former Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn resigned to pave way for the much-needed reforms. In came a young and energetic Abiy Ahmed who instituted much-needed changes enabling exiled citizens like Feyisa to return back home.



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