Boxing champ Ali appeals to Iran to release U.S. hikers held on spy charges

Boxing champ Muhammad Ali is seeking the release of two American hikers from Iran by lobbying the country’s supreme leader in a way that few American dignitaries can: as a brother in Islam.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Boxing champ Muhammad Ali is seeking the release of two American hikers from Iran by lobbying the country’s supreme leader in a way that few American dignitaries can: as a brother in Islam.

Arguably the most prominent U.S. Muslim, Ali made his simple, behind-the scenes appeal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in February and released his letter to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Ali’s wife said he would be willing to return to the country, which he’s visited twice before, to work on the hikers’ release if his health allows.

The letter asks Khamenei to release Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who have been held on espionage charges since July 2009, when they were arrested 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 young people,” his wife, Lonnie Ali, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from their Arizona home.

The letter was the second one the boxing champ sent to Khamenei asking for the Americans’ release, Lonnie Ali said.

The first was sent last year just before Shourd was released, but it isn’t known whether the letter had any effect.

Ali hasn’t received responses to either.

“Please show the world the compassion I know you have in your heart,” Ali wrote in his second letter, asking Khamenei as a “dear brother” to show the same mercy and compassion for the two men as he did for Shourd.

Lonnie Ali said the letter was delivered via the Iranian consulate in the United Nations.

It referenced the 69-year-old former boxer’s previous trips to the country and his memories of its “kind and beautiful people.”

“Most Americans don’t know how warm and welcoming the Iranian people can be,” Ali wrote.

“One day, I hope I am able to return to Tehran to stand, greet and be among my Iranian brothers and sisters once again. Perhaps that day will come soon.”

Lonnie Ali said her husband has visited Iran twice before, including a trip in the early 1990s in which he tried to secure the exchange of prisoners during the Iran-Iraq war.

She said he would be willing to go to Iran to help secure the hikers’ release, but it would depend on his health.

Parkinson’s Disease has limited his speech and physical activity, and at a rare public appearance in Glendale, Arizona, last week, Ali raised his fists for some pictures but sat in a chair, eyes shrouded in sunglasses even while inside, and at least once had to be adjusted when his head slumped.

“If we thought that they would be released and if Muhammad’s presence would have some impact on that release for the good, then, yes, we would try very hard to make sure Muhammad was able to go,” Lonnie Ali said. “But a lot of that, as you know, would depend on Muhammad’s health. That’s the bottom line.”

The former boxer is the founder of a centre for world peace in Louisville, where he grew up and launched a boxing career that included three world heavyweight titles.

Lonnie Ali said Alex Fattal, Josh Fattal’s brother, had visited the Alis in Arizona on Tuesday. It was their first meeting.

“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 families said in a statement released through their spokeswoman, Samantha Topping. “We hope and pray that Iran hears this appeal and responds with compassion. It is time for this nightmare to end.”

The trial for the three Americans began in February, and they pleaded not guilty to the espionage charges. Shourd pleaded not guilty in absentia.

The second session of the trial is scheduled for May 11 in Tehran.

The U.S. government has denied the charges against the hikers and demanded their release. Their lengthy detention has added to tensions between the two nations over issues such as Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read