Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa marked his silver medal in the Olympic Games men’s marathon on Sunday by staging a dramatic protest against his country’s government.
Lilesa crossed his arms above his head as he finished the gruelling event – as a sign of solidarity with the Oromo people, who are protesting against the Ethiopian government reallocating them from their farmland.
The marathon runner, who was second to Kenyan favourite Eliud Kipchoge, claimed his life could be in peril after making the sign.
‘I have relatives in prison back home,’ he said.
‘If you talk about democracy they kill you. If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me, or put me in prison.
‘It is very dangerous in my country. Maybe I have to go to another country. I was protesting for people everywhere who have no freedom.’
The signal was in gesture of support for members of his Oromo tribe who have been protesting at government plans to reallocate farmland.
Plans to allocate land surrounding the capital for development prompted fierce demonstrations in November and spread for months, in the country’s worst unrest in more than a decade.
Ethiopia has long been one of the world’s poorest nations but has industrialised rapidly in the past decade.
However, reallocating land is a thorny issue for Ethiopians, many of whom are subsistence farmers.
Authorities scrapped the scheme in January, but protests flared again this month over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.
In early August, protesters chanted slogans during a demonstration over what they say is unfair distribution of wealth in the country at Meskel Square in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
Human rights groups say that Ethiopian security forces have killed scores of people in recent weeks as authorities crack down on a wave of anti-government unrest in two key regions, central-western Oromia and Amhara in the north.
The government disputes the figures and says illegal protests by ‘anti-peace forces’ have been brought under control.
‘Oromo is my tribe … Oromo people now protest what is right, for peace, for a place,’ Lilesa explained after his silver-medal performance, adding that he feared he would face consequences for the gesture when he returned home.
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.