Ethiopia has people of many ethnicities and religion. Muslims are persecuted severely in this country, which is run by Christians. Years ago, in the height of severe persecution, most of the Jewish people migrated to Israel, only to find themselves treated as the second class population there by the Ashkenazi Jews who govern and run the apartheid state.
In the Rio Olympic, as he finished second in the race Sunday, Feyisa Lilesa held his arms above his head in an “X,” a sign of protest used against the Ethiopian government for its persecution of the Oromo ethnic group. Lilesa took a brave stand, and at a news conference, it was clear he knew the price he might have to pay.
"If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me,” he said Sunday. “If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said. He is from the Oromo ethnicity, who are persecuted by the Ethiopian government. (The Oromo have equal percentages of Christian and Muslim people (each close to 50%).
Lilesa's fear that he will be jailed is borne out in the experiences of other Ethiopians. In 2012, Eskinder Nega, a blogger, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Woubshet Taye, a journalist, was sentenced to 14 years. Both were convicted on terrorism charges. Human rights groups say Ethiopia frequently uses anti-terror laws to round up its critics. In 2014, the Committee to Protect Journalists declared Ethiopia "the fourth worst jailer of journalists in the world."
Protests have increased in Ethiopia in recent months, and many of them turned violent after government forces turned their weapons on civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since November.
The Oromo people have long complained about being mistreated by the nation's government, which has recently threatened to reallocate some of the group's land. But recently, the Oromos have been joined in their protest by other ethnic groups, including the Amharas, some of whom also feel antagonized by the government, which is dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic minority. Those growing protests, experts say, could eventually pose a threat to the government.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Oromia Support Group (OSG) recorded 594 extra-judicial killings of Oromos by Ethiopian government security forces and 43 disappearances in custody between 2005 and August 2008.
Starting in November 2015, during a wave of mass protests, mainly by Oromos, over the expansion of the municipal boundary of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia, 80-250 people have been killed and many more have been injured, according to human-rights advocates and independent monitors. The protests have since spread to other ethnic groups and encompass wider social grievances.
The Oromo people are the largest ethnic grouping in Ethiopia, which has a total of 74 ethnically diverse language groups. About 95% are settled agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists, practising archaic farming methods and living at subsistence level. A few live in the urban centres.
Oromos today are mainly concentrated in the Oromia region in central Ethiopia, which is the largest region in the country in terms of both population and size. Group members also have a notable presence in northern Kenya.
Click here to learn more about the Oromo people.