Muhammad Ali Joins Calls For Release of U.S. Citizens Held in Iran
WASHINGTON -- U.S. boxing
legend Muhammad Ali has publicly appealed to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
to release two Americans who have been held in the Persian Gulf state for 662
days on spying charges.
Speaking at the Washington press conference through his wife,
Lonnie, Muhammad Ali called for the "compassionate release" of the two men.
Ali and several other prominent U.S. Muslims said in a letter
to Khamenei, read at the National Press Club in Washington on May 24, that the
prisoners should be released on the basis of compassion and kindness "following
the example of Prophet Muhammad."
"After listening to the families, we believe these Americans did not seek to
cause any problems between the United States and Muslim world or the United
States and Iran, but were in the region for the opposite purpose, to promote
dialogue and understanding," the letter said.
The two detainees, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who are both 28 years old,
maintain their innocence.
Along with Fattal's fiancee, Sara Shourd, they say they were taken into custody
in July 2009 while hiking near Iran's border with Iraq.
After repeated calls from Washington for their release, Shourd was freed on
$500,000 bail in September 2010.
Ali, the 69-year-old former world heavyweight boxing champion who suffers from
Parkinson's disease, was in attendance at the release of the letter, but did not
He converted to Islam in 1975.
Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal during the first session of their trial at
Revolutionary Court in February
Speaking on Ali's behalf, his wife Lonnie said that the people of Iran are "good
people in their heart" regardless of relations between the U.S. and Iran, and
that this could be the basis for the Iranian authorities to ensure the
"compassionate release" of the two American detainees.
She added that when Ali was young, he "wanted to experience the world" like the
Speaking to RFE/RL after the press conference, Lonnie Ali said the Iranian
Supreme Leader had not responded to an initial letter her husband sent him in
February, which contained a similar plea for the young men's release.
She added, however, that she believes Ayatollah Khamenei has received the
Indecision And Delays
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal, and Shourd, were
also present. The mothers of the detained Americans have kept up a campaign
lasting several months to raise awareness about their children and work toward
Laura Fattal said Iran's "indecision and delays" have taken a heavy toll, both
on the families and the prisoners, who she said are being held in total
Shourd, who said the detention of the U.S. citizens "has everything to do with
animosity between the United States and Iran," expressed hope in an interview
with Radio Farda that this latest appeal would not fall on deaf ears.
'A Humanitarian Issue Of Utmost Urgency'
"After [Fattal and Bauer's] last court session was cancelled [on May 11], I have
hope that the Iranian authorities have decided that Shane and Josh don't need to
be tried and their humanitarian release is in the works," she said.
Josh's brother, Alex Fattal, who fought back his tears while speaking about the
plight of the hikers, said their detention is "a humanitarian issue of utmost
"We heard recently in the phone calls that Josh and Shane had been on hunger
strike for 17 consecutive days to receive letters," he said. "That breaks our
hearts. We want them home and we want them home as soon as possible."
Earlier on May 24, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told
state television that the detained Americans are not hikers.
"They have committed offences and using the term 'hikers' for them is a joke,"
he was quoted as saying.
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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