For 664 days, American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been held hostage by the Iranian government on charges that they entered Iran illegally for espionage. After 22 months in prison and several delays in their trial dates, Muhammad Ali ventured from his Arizona home to Washington to ask for their release.
The fighter, who was known for his colorful taunts and catch phrases, can barely speak now as a result of his lengthy bout with Parkinson’s disease. His wife, Lonnie, now acts as his voice. She said that Ali saw a lot of himself in the young men after reading their story and sought out their mothers to see if he could help resolve this issue.
“After reading about Shane and Josh, he felt . . . these were two young men — who regardless of what international policy says, regardless of what politics says — wanted to experience the world, wanted to experience other cultures, wanted to experience other people…,” she said. “That’s a good thing.”
The Iranian government has steadfastly held that the two were in Iran for nefarious purposes and that prosecution will proceed. When the trial will occur is anyone’s guess. There is no Sixth Amendment “right to speedy trial” in Iranian courts.
Another hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released after spending more than 400 days in solitary confinement and posting $500,000 bail.
Ali led a group of other U.S. Muslims in asking for the release of the American hikers. The Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, the Universal Muslim Association of America, and the Council on American Islamic Relations all appeared with Ali and the mothers of the hikers to appeal to Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ali is revered in Iran, and, as Lonnie noted, the Iranians are good people who “love this man, and it is based on that compassion — the love of Allah, the love of (the Prophet) Muhammad — that we ask for their release.”
A release of the hikers could help heal an already strained relationship between the Iranian government and the United States. Many have noted that the holding of the two has nothing to do with “espionage” and everything to do with the animosity between the United States and Iran.
As a Muslim, I also ask for the release of these American hikers and a return to the United States so that they may be with their families. The word Islam means “peace” and “way to peace.” Hopefully, the Iranian government will remember this as it makes a decision.