US reporter freed from Iran recounts how Mohammad Ali helped his cause

Jason Rezaian, who was held in an Iranian prison said that Muhammad Ali used his celebrity status to pressure Tehran to free him

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Washington Post reporter who was finally released after spending 545 days in an Iranian prison earlier this year told CNN in an interview on Saturday that the late US boxing champ Muhammad Ali used his celebrity status to pressure Tehran in freeing him.

Jason Rezaian, who was held on charges of espionage and other crimes against Iran’s national security, said “I can't express in words, how much it meant to me, continues to mean to me” after Ali released a public statement in March 2015, urging Iran to release him.

Rezaian’s statements come as a tribute to Ali, who died at the age of 74, after enduring a septic shock.

Ali, who converted to Islam in 1964, was much admired in Iran not only for being a top sportsman but also as a Muslim, explained Rezaian, adding that his Iranian prison guards treated him better after hearing about Ali’s support for him.

“I think it brought some doubt to them about the [espionage-related] charges against me,” he said. “He was everybody’s champion, just like he was here in America and around the world.”

In the letter, Ali said: “I am sorry that I cannot be physically present to lend my support in person, but I pray my words will provide relief to the efforts to secure the release of Jason Rezaian. InshaAllah [God willing]. It is my great hope that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian.”

Rezaian and his wife were arrested in Iran in 2014, where he was later convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial in 2015.

He was freed last year along with three more Iranian-Americans after what US officials said was a long diplomatic campaign to secure their release