A life of discrimination and fear led an Ethiopian marathoner to protest on the world stage

At night, Feyisa Lilesa and his friends hid in the farms to evade the security forces who were arresting people across the country. As a 15-year-old growing up in Oromia region, Lilesa says he was always aware that many of his fellow citizens didn’t approve of the government’s treatment.

But the moment of awakening for him came in the days and weeks following the landmark May 2005 elections. Championed by the government as a genuine exercise in competitive elections, the vote involved multiple parties, not to mention the significantly enlarged space for political campaigning.

However, when the early outcome of the vote showed a huge lead from opposition groups, the government delayed finalizing the count and responded to protests with a heavy-handed approach. An independent study of the post-election violence by an Ethiopian judge showed the shooting, beating and strangling of almost 200 people, including 40 teenagers. The government also arbitrarily arrested protesters, with police records showing the detention of 20,000 people during the anti-government protests.

Read More: Quartz

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