September 14, 2016 | Foreign Policy.com | BY SIOBHÁN O'GRADY
Lilesa didn’t trust them. He arrived in the United States last week, where he is now seeking asylum.
On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, pointed to the runner as a victim in the fight for democratic freedom in Ethiopia. The congressman said that although Ethiopia has proven itself as a longtime ally to the United States, the government has “intensified in its effort to shut down political opposition and critics in civil society.”
Smith is calling on Ethiopian officials to respect the rights of Lilesa and other citizens to freely express opinions without fear of retribution. He said Tuesday he would file bipartisan legislation urging Ethiopia’s leaders to allow a special United Nations rapporteur into the country to examine its human rights situation.
In Addis Ababa, the request will likely be seen as a rebuff against the government from a close ally. When reached by telephone, an officer at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington asked to try calling again on Wednesday.
In his remarks, Smith pointed to examples of other Ethiopian protesters who now fear their government, including Demssew Tsega Abebe, another runner who participated in a rally last year and later had his feet tortured by security forces. Over the past year, some 400 protesters are believed to have been killed at the hands of security forces.
“I have remained in contact with the Ethiopian government in an effort to convince them to moderate their behavior toward their citizens,” Smith said. “Unfortunately this moderation has not taken place.”