Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian said Saturday that after Muhammad Ali called on Iran last year to free him, the guards in the notorious Evin Prison "started treating me in a better way."
"It brought some doubt to them about the charges against me," Rezaian, who was released in January after 545 days in captivity, told Jim Sciutto on CNN
. "My spirits were really lifted — and I felt empowered in a way that nothing else lifted me throughout that time."
Ali, who died on Friday at age 74, said in a statement issued through the National Press Club in March 2015 that "it is my great hope that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian and provide him with access to all of his legal options."
The boxing legend called Rezaian a "man whose dedication and respect for the Iranian people is evident in his work" and said that he supported efforts by the journalist's family and colleagues to secure his release.
In July 2014, Rezaian was arrested at his home in Tehran along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian reporter, according to the Post
. He is an Iranian-American who was the newspaper's Tehran bureau chief.
His wife was released on bail, but Rezaian was held in Evin Prison in Tehran.
Dubbed "Evin University" because of the high number of political prisoners held there, the fortress is "one of the world's most brutal and infamous prisons," Fox News reports
"I'm just getting chills as I read that again," Rezaian told Sciutto of Ali's statement. "It meant so much to me at the time.
"My wife came to visit me, which she was allowed to do fairly rarely — and she told me this, that Muhammad Ali had made this statement.
"I can't tell you, I can't express in words how much it meant to me, continues to mean to me," he said. "There were so many calls for my release, so much support — but getting the support of the champ touched me in ways that just still ripple through my life."
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