Speaking to EurActiv, Feyisa Lilesa said that the real death toll during protests was over 1,000 and his home country, Ethiopia

By Matthew Tempest (EurActiv.com) |

EXCLUSIVE/Ethiopia―One of the EU’s largest recipients of development aid and a key partner in the new Emergency Trust Fund for Africa for halting the flow of migrants – garnered unwelcome headlines last summer, when Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilesa raised his arms in protest at the treatment of the Oromo and Amhara peoples.

He talked to EurActiv.com’s development correspondent, Matthew Tempest.

Since then, the government has declared a state of emergency, as – according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – at least 500 people have died at the hands of the security services.

Interview by EurActiv last month, the Ethiopian Ambassador to the EU refused to put an official figure on the death toll. But speaking to EurActiv today, Feyisa said that the real death toll was over 1,000 and his home country – from which he is now about to seek political asylum – could end up in a Libya-style civil war.

[This interview was conducted via a translator]

When I spoke to the Ethiopian ambassador to the EU last month, he made a public assurance that you and your family would be safe. Do you trust that?

This is what they always say. I might be killed or imprisoned if I return home.

The symbol that the TV cameras at the Olympics caught you doing with your arms in Rio, is that supposed to symbolize the ‘X’ of a voting ballot paper? Because Ethiopia is, at least technically, a democracy.

No. It is a sign my people make above their heads to show the police they are unarmed. If we had our hands in our pockets, we might be shot. It is to show our protests are unarmed and peaceful, and to represent the fact that we are all in a prison [Ethiopia].

Continue reading this interview on EurActiv.com
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