A crowdfunding campaign for Ethiopian runner and Olympic silver medalist, Feyisa Lilesa, has raise over $130,000 days as he failed to return home from the Rio Olympics on concern that his life could be in danger after flashing a protest sign against the government’s crackdown on his Oromo community.
Lilesa crossed his arms in the air as he finished the race on Sunday and during the medal presentation, in solidarity with the Oromo people who have faced a brutal crackdown since protests began in November last year.
The reaction drew government’s ire back home, prompting the state broadcaster not to air replays of his finish.
The fund was set up to help the runner and his family to seek asylum in the United States, and has set a target to raise $150,000, Crowdfund Insider reported.
Lilesa was due to jet back into the country on Monday night alongside other members of the country’s Olympic team.
The government had earlier said that Lilesa would be accorded a hero’s welcome for winning the silver medal, adding that authorities will not jeopardize his safety once he returned.
“After all, this is an athlete who secured silver medal for his country,” Getachew Reda, government spokesman, told state-affiliated newscaster Fana Broadcasting Corporation.
Henok Gabisa, an academic fellow at Lee University School of Law in Virginia, however raised doubts about the government’s safety assurance for Lilesa.
“People who were killed, more than 500 Oromos and Amhara people who were killed and maimed and imprisoned for showing the same gesture are still being killed. What unique reason do we have that Feyisa is not going to face the same predicament?” he told Voice of America.
Lilesa had earlier told reporters after the marathon that he feared for his life if he goes back home.
The marathoner’s gesture captured global attention to the Oromo protests that have led to hundreds of death as Ethiopian security forces battle the Oromo and Amhara communities.
The protests started in November last year over plans to extend the administrative boundaries of Addis Ababa into the Oromia region and marginalization of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and the Amhara tribe.
According to Human Right Watch, more than 400 civilians have been killed as security forces have used live ammunition against the protesters.
Lilesa did not appeal for the support but the nation’s Diaspora community voluntarily came together to help him from the government, which is considered one of the most authoritative regimes in Africa.
Part of the funds raised in the campaign dubbed, GoFundMe will be used to hire a legal team to help Lilesa acquire asylum in the US.