As uncertainty shrouds the whereabouts of Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa, his family is urging him to stay away from Ethiopia.
The athlete made an anti-government protest sign by crossing his hands over his head, a sign used by the Oromo people, as he crossed the finish line of the Rio marathon last Sunday.
Do you really believe what the government is saying? I don't believe so.
After the race, Lilesa said he feared for his life if he should return to Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government dismissed his fears saying he would be accorded a hero’s welcome on his return.
But the Olympic marathon silver medalist is sticking to his guns not to return home. And it appears he has the blessing of his family to stay wherever he is currently.
“Do you really believe what the government is saying?” his mother quizzed the Reuters news agency adding that “I don’t believe so”.
She urged him to “stay there” explaining that “I would have liked him to come but what can I do?”
Biritu Fulasa said: “I was crying too much the other day but now I am feeling better. I want him to stay there. I wish him well.”
There has been unrest in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region for months now over land rights as well as allegations of human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch say at least 400 demonstrators have been killed by security forces during months-long protests triggered by the Ethiopian government’s plans to include some parts of Oromiya within the capital Addis Ababa’s limits..
Lilesa’s wife, Iftu Mulisa said even though she was concerned about the safety of her family, she was not surprised by her husband’s action as he had been enraged by the arrests and beating of people in his hometown.
“I was very scared at the time but I wasn’t surprised because I know him,” she said.
“He was burning inside when he saw on social media all these dead bodies; people being beaten and people being arrested. So I was not surprised because I knew he had a lot of anger inside.”
Ethiopia’s Olympic arrived in Addis Ababa on Tuesday but without Lilesa who is reportedly seeking political asylum in the United States. The US State Department though has not made any comment on the matter.
An online crowd funding campaign on GoFundMe has raised over $130,000 over the past three days.
The money according to the fund raisers, would be used to support Lilesa’s family.