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Vanunu defiant as Israel brings new charges

by Peter Hounam
London Sunday Times
March 20, 2005

THE nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu reacted defiantly yesterday to criminal charges levelled by the Israeli authorities that could put him back in prison. He vowed to continue flouting orders that prohibit him from speaking to the foreign press because he believes that he has the right to freedom of speech.

Speaking through an intermediary from the cathedral in Jerusalem where he has sought sanctuary, Vanunu said he had always believed that the orders were unconstitutional and had therefore decided to ignore them. "This is a human rights issue," Vanunu said.

"I want to work for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. I want the human race to survive."

Vanunu worked as a technician at Israel's nuclear weapons plant near the town of Dimona, but in 1986 he decided to expose its inner secrets to The Sunday Times. He was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Rome and smuggled home, where he stood trial for treason and espionage.

His gruelling 18-year sentence ended last April but restrictions were immediately imposed on him, including bans on leaving the country and speaking to foreigners. He soon began to infuriate the authorities by openly meeting visitors from abroad, including the foreign media.

Among 22 indictments filed last Thursday in the Jerusalem district court, Vanunu is accused of violating the restrictions by giving a joint interview to The Sunday Times and the BBC last May, although the interviewer was an Israeli.

Another charge says that last July he told a British journalist that he had "photographed a model of a neutron bomb and said he believed Israel had developed a hydrogen bomb". This is presented in the charge as a revelation, but the Sunday Times articles in 1986 included Vanunu's photographs of models of these types of weapon with explanatory details.

Another indictment said Vanunu had told the Sky television journalist Adam Boulton last December that he was "deliberately violating the restrictions imposed on him in order to make his case".

In another charge Vanunu has been accused of attempting to leave Israel. The incident dates from Christmas Eve when he took a taxi to the West Bank town of Bethlehem with the aim of attending a carol service at the Church of the Nativity.

Michael Sfard, one of Vanunu's lawyers, said: "Vanunu has fully served his sentence for what he did. Now the authorities seem to be trying to punish him all over again."

Yael Lotan, a leading Israeli civil rights campaigner, said that the authorities were seeking to keep Vanunu permanently under their control: "The restrictions on him last year were due to expire in four weeks' time. Now they can keep him in this country indefinitely. It makes me ashamed to be an Israeli."

John Witherow, editor of The Sunday Times, said: "When we interviewed Vanunu last year we made sure the interview was conducted by an Israeli in compliance with the restrictions. He said nothing new about the Israeli nuclear programme because he knows nothing more. This newspaper published everything in 1986."


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