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Judge rejects Vanunu charges

Times online
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1632112,00.html

Peter Hounam
May 29, 2005

A JUDGE has challenged 22 new charges levelled by Israel's justice ministry against Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear whistleblower.

Israeli government lawyers at a hearing last week were left trying to salvage a case that they had hoped would put Vanunu back in jail after he completed an 18-year sentence for leaking information about the country's nuclear weapons programme to The Sunday Times.

The government had accused Vanunu of breaching restrictions imposed on his release that prevented him leaving the country or talking to any foreigner.

However, one charge was rejected by Judge Yoel Tzur and the prosecutors were told to find more evidence to support other allegations.

Michael Sfard, one of Vanunu's lawyers, said he was "very very satisfied" with the outcome of the hearing in Jerusalem magistrates' court.

"Judge Tzur threw out a charge that Mordechai had attempted to leave Israel when he once tried to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank," he said.

"We had pointed out that no Israeli needs a passport or identity card to go there and so it was not foreign territory."

Sfar said the judge had also decided that charges that Vanunu had spoken to foreign journalists could not stand.

"He ruled that none of these amounted to maliciously breaching a legal order, which carries a maximum sentence of two years," Sfar said.

"If they can, the prosecution now have to formulate new charges that he violated emergency legislation, which carries only a maximum nine-month sentence, and they have been given a month to do it."

Ernest Rodker, head of a UK campaign to free Vanunu, claimed the ruling was a breakthrough.

"It is the first time in Vanunu's long history of persecution by the Israeli security services that their ridiculous charges against him have been seriously challenged," he said.

Vanunu, who since leaving jail has lived at the pilgrims' hostel of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem, has told friends that he was pleased at the outcome.

However, he reiterated his decision to continue giving interviews to the foreign media.


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