March 17, 2011 in Nation/World

Ali asks Iran to release two U.S. hikers

Boxing great appeals to nation’s supreme leader
Janet Cappiello Associated Press

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 AP.

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.”

Lonnie Ali said her husband 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.

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