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Iran 'Yet To Respond' To Muhammad Ali Plea For Jailed Americans

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali
WASHINGTON -- Iranian authorities have yet to respond to a February letter from the former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali asking for the release of two young Americans held on spying charges, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Ali wrote to Supreme Leader Ayatolllah Ali Khamenei asking him to release Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were arrested in July 2009 near the Iran-Iraq border along with a third American, Sarah Shourd.

The three said they were hiking in northern Iraq and if they crossed the border they did so unintentionally. But Iran has put the three on trial for espionage -- Shourd in absentia, after she returned home to the United States in September.

Ali's wife, Yolanda, told Radio Farda on March 31 there has been no response to Ali's letter so far, but that the couple remains hopeful.

"It's not that he [Khamenei] needs to contact us personally. I don't think that is important. The important thing is that there's movement on their release and there's progress in that direction," Yolanda Ali said.

"Things take time and we have belief and faith in Allah that he will allow the ayatollah and the powers of the government in Iran to react to the letter. We are trying to give them ample time to get it and to digest it and to formulate some type of response, however that may be. We remain hopeful. Everything is in God's hands."

Ali, a convert to Islam, appealed to Khamenei as a fellow Muslim to release the two men on compassionate grounds.

His wife said Ali is "not a political animal" and does not consider the issue to be political.

"We don't get involved in the politics of government, we never have, we're just
interested in the people, and what is good for them, and hopefully the letter
was taken in that regard, and I'm sure it was. Muhammad comes with no agenda
except to help secure the release of the remaining two hikers," Yolanda Ali said.

Ali, 69, won the world heavyweight title three different times, first in 1964 in a win over Sonny Liston, and the last time in 1978. He is considered by many the most famous boxing champion in the world.