Ethiopian marathoner makes protest gesture at Rio finish line

Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa crosses his arms at the finish line of the Men's Marathon event as a protest against the Ethiopian government's crackdown on political dissent.

Story highlights

  • Feyisa Lilesa says the Ethiopian government persecutes the Oromo people
  • He fears being killed or imprisoned if he returns to Ethiopia

(CNN)Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia may have turned himself into a political exile because of the way he won a silver medal in the Olympics marathon on Sunday.

He strode across the finish line with his arms crossed over his head in a sign of solidarity for the Oromo people, his native group and the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. He repeated the sign at a press conference.
    In an interview after the race, Lilesa said he wanted to draw attention to the government's ongoing persecution of the Oromos.
    By speaking out, he said, he put himself into such danger that he can't go home.
    "I really think that I would be killed," he said -- or imprisoned. Some of his family members are already in prison, he said, and he worries about the safety of his wife and two children.
    Lilesa said he may stay in Brazil or go to Kenya or the United States, depending on whether he can obtain a visa for those moves.
    It's unclear if his gesture with the arms will affect his medal. In the past, the Olympics committee has stripped athletes of their medals for political protests, as when American sprinters Tom