One of four Ethiopian athletes reported missing last week from an international track meet in Eugene told a Washington police officer that she and her teammates left Eugene to escape civil unrest in their native country, newly released police reports show.
Zeyituna Mohammed, 18, told a Federal Way, Wash., police officer through an interpreter last week that she may seek asylum in the United States. She said she is afraid to return to Ethiopia, which has seen significant political turmoil and human rights abuses in recent years.
Mohammed said an acquaintance, who is from Mohammed's Ethiopian village, picked her up in Portland on July 27 and drove her to his home in Federal Way, the officer wrote in a Federal Way Police Department report.
The police officer said Mohammed was "smiling and appeared in great health" at the Washington home. She told the officer that she wants to try to stay in the United States.
Mohammed -- along with teammates Dureti Edao, 18, Meaza Kebede, 18, and Amanuel Abebe, 17 -- was reported missing after last month's World Junior Championships at Hayward Field. All four athletes were found safe last week with acquaintances in Beaverton and Washington.
Police have not said whether the other athletes plan to seek asylum, but their coaches -- Dube Jillo and Mear Ali Sirro -- told a University of Oregon police officer that they may try to seek U.S. citizenship "to defect from Ethiopia," according to a UO police report.
The athletes are in the United States legally and can stay per the terms of their visas, a university spokeswoman previously said.
The coaches told UO police that the athletes would likely travel to a place with more Ethiopian connections than Eugene, such as Portland or somewhere in Washington.
Hours before she and her teammates were reported missing, Mohammed told her coach that she signed a contract with Nike on July 25, according to the UO police report. Edao said she signed a contract with adidas the same day, the report said.
The coaches told police that Edao asked them for her passport so she could give a copy to the adidas contract manager to finalize the agreement, the report said. The coaches said they gave Edao a key to the room where the passports were held. All four of the athletes' passports were later missing, the coaches told police.
An adidas spokeswoman said on Monday that Edao signed a contract with the company several months ago. A Nike representative did not immediately return a phone call and an email message Monday to confirm whether Mohammed signed a contract.
Several Ethiopian athletes said that on the night of July 25 they saw a white sedan parked on East 13th Avenue, just north of the UO's Hamilton Hall, where the athletes were staying. The athletes said they saw the four "run out to the car and get in" while carrying bags and personal items.
Police found that the sedan was registered to a car rental company in Portland.
Three of the athletes' rooms were essentially empty, police said. Abebe's clothes and suitcase were left behind.
The UO police officer wrote in the report that when he initially talked to one of the coaches, the coach did not seem concerned that the athletes were reported missing. The coach "even shrugged his shoulders" when talking about it, the officer wrote.
A UO spokeswoman said previously that she was unaware of any previous incidents in which international athletes competing at the UO have sought asylum.
The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report, released by Secretary of State John Kerry in February, details a worsening human rights situation in Ethiopia. In recent years, the country has adopted several draconian laws, including an Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that authorities have used to criminalize dissent and arrest opposition leaders, the report said.
Last month, the Ethiopian government filed terrorism charges against seven media bloggers and three independent journalists, all but one of whom has been in detention since April, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog group that supports democratic change. Ethiopia is rated "Not Free" in the agency's Freedom in the World 2014 report.
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