Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali has sent a letter to the supreme leader of Iran pleading for the release of two American hikers who have been held there on espionage charges since July 2009, The Associated Press reported.
Ali made a behind-the-scenes appeal to Ayatolah Ali Khamenei in February and released the letter to the AP on Wednesday. Ali’s wife, Lonnie, said he would be willing to visit Iran to work on the hikers’ relief if his health allows.
The letter asks Khamenei to release Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were arrested by Iranian authorities while hiking in northern Iraq, near the Iranian border. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail in September.
“He was hoping his letter would bear some weight in trying to secure the release of these … two idealistic people,” Lonnie Ali told the AP.
The letter was the second one the boxing champ sent to Khamenei asking for the release of the two Americans. The first was sent last year, just before Shourd was released. Ali has not received a response to either letter.
In his second letter, Ali asked Khamenei as a “dear brother” to show the same mercy and compassion for the two men that he showed for Shourd.
The letter was delivered via the Iranian consulate in the United Nations, Lonnie Ali said.
A statement from the families of the two imprisoned hikers was released this week after Alex Fattal, Josh’s brother, visited Muhammad and Lonnie Ali on Tuesday at their Arizona home.
“We are deeply grateful to Mr. Ali and the many other people around the world who know that Shane and Josh absolutely do not deserve to be in prison,” the statement said. “We hope and pray that Iran hears this appeal and responds with compassion. It is time for this nightmare to end.”
Fattal and Bauer have entered not guilty pleas to the espionage charges at their trial, which began in February. Shourd pleaded not guilty in absentia. The second session of the trial is scheduled to begin May 11 in Tehran.
Dennis Taylor is editor/publisher of www.ringsideboxingshow.com and co-host of The Ringside Boxing Show.