ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: For 662 days Americans Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have lived without freedom. Isolated and imprisoned in Iran, the men stand accused of spying for the United States. Today their families and loved ones were joined in a plea for help by boxing legend Muhammad Ali and prominent U.S. Muslim leaders who called for their release.
“These men have spent their lives spreading the truth of the Koran and the values of justice and compassion that this Holy Book embodies. Shane and Josh have both live their lives consistent with these same values,” Sarah Shourd said today at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
On July 21, 2009 while hiking on vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan, Shourd, 32, was detained with Bauer, 28, and Fattal, 28, by Iranian forces along the unmarked border with Iran. Shourd, Bauer’s fiancé, was released on humanitarian grounds last September.
In a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei released today, Ali and 20 other American Muslim leaders wrote of Bauer and Fattal’s innocence and appealed to the Supreme Leader to release them on the basis of compassion and kindness following the example of the Prophet Muhammad.
“After listening to the families, we believe that these Americans did not seek to cause any problems between the United States and the Muslim world or the United States and Iran, but were in the region for the opposite purpose, to promote dialogue and understanding,” the letter said.
“Please show them Islamic compassion, mercy, and forgiveness and allow them to continue on this mission… We feel confident that your example of Islamic mercy and compassion could help create a more positive image of Islam and help American Muslim scholars and organizations foster a reputable community within American society.”
Speaking on behalf of her husband Lonnie Ali explained that “regardless of how things are going between the Republic of Iran and the United States the people of Iran are good people. They are good people in their hearts and I can assure you they love this man. It’s based on that compassion, for love of Allah, love of Muhammad, that we ask for their release.” The three-time World Heavyweight Champion did not speak at today’s event.
Lonnie Ali drew comparisons between the hikers and her husband, saying that when her husband was a young man he too wanted to “experience the world.”
“When he was a young man, just like these two, Muhammad became a citizen of the world. There were no boundaries. There were no different cultures… That is what helped shaped him into the being he is today, a citizen of the world. After reading about Shane and Josh we felt the same way about them. That these were two young men who, regardless of what international policy said, regardless of what politics said, that they wanted to experience the world,” she said.
The families of the two men have long denied the charges against them and reiterated today that their detention is purely political.
“We have no control over the politics between countries yet we find ourselves caught up in animosity among nations simply because of our U.S. citizenship,” Shane Bauer’s mother Cindy Hickey said.
On Sunday the two detainees spoke with their families for the first time since November 27, 2010. “It was only the third time Josh has been allowed to call home in more than 21 months of imprisonment. He too was honored to know that the Champ and people of peace around the world are raising their voices for his freedom,” Josh Fattal’s mother Laura Fattal said today.
The phone calls came after the two detainees went on a 17-day hunger strike to protest not being able to receive letters from loved ones. As a show of solidarity, the families of the hikers are now on rolling hunger strikes themselves.