Lilesa finished second in the men’s marathon in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday and, as he was passing the finish line, crossed his wrists above his head. The gesture was in solidarity with protesters in Oromia, a region of Ethiopia, who have been involved in deadly clashes with Ethiopian security forces in recent months.
The athlete made the gesture again on the podium during the medal ceremony and said that he feared he would be killed or detained if he returned to Ethiopia.
Lilesa did not board the plane that left Brazil carrying Ethiopia’s Olympic team on Monday night, AFP reported. Ethiopian state broadcaster Fana Broadcasting Corporation reported on Wednesday that the Olympic team was welcomed back by senior government officials, including sports minister Redwan Hussein, but made no mention of Lilesa’s absence. Government officials reportedly refused to answer any questions about the athlete. Newsweek contacted the Ethiopian Embassy in London on Monday for a comment on Lilesa’s demonstration but is yet to receive a response.
The 26-year-old runner, who said that he has a wife and two children in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, has indicated that he might try to seek asylum in the United States. A crowdfunding campaign set up to support Lilesa has raised almost $120,000 in just three days after being set up on Sunday.