The Oromo tribe is the largest ethnic group in the country and clashes with the government over civil rights. In recent times, the Oromo people have been protesting a government plan to take over their farmland.
When Lelisa publicly protested in Rio, he said at the post-race press conference that he feared for his life. Last month, Human Rights Watch estimated that security forces have killed about 500 Oromo people since 2015, adding that “those who do not actively support the government often face harassment and arbitrary detention.”
On Tuesday Feyisa issued a statement to the media saying although he is happy to be reunited with his family, he has mixed emotions because he would rather be at home with them in Ethiopia.
“As I celebrate this small personal victory, I want to make sure that we don’t forget the plight of millions of Oromo and other Ethiopians who are still being killed, beaten, imprisoned, dispossessed and kept in poverty,” he said, later adding, “My commitment to this cause is not simply raising my crossed wrists over my head after every race. I am prepared to do all it takes to help my people win their freedom.”
For now, Feyisa told the Associated Press that he and his family plan to settle in a rental house in Flagstaff. He is scheduled to compete at the London Marathon in April. Most recently he finished second at the Houston Half Marathon in 1:01:14.
“I knew that [my family] would meet somehow, but I didn’t expect it would happen under these circumstances over here,” Lilesa told the AP. “When I think about my family, it takes me back to why I did this and why I’m here. I missed my family, but this was a big bother to me—the plight of my people.”