Warders send Vanunu back to solitary

October 1 2000


Vanunu: jail staff lost him

A harsh new regime has been imposed on Mordechai Vanunu, the former nuclear technician imprisoned for leaking details of Israel's atomic weapons programme to The Sunday Times. This weekend he was in solitary confinement as he entered his 15th year of captivity.

The decision to isolate him followed a scare in which staff at the jail near Tel Aviv could not find him for more than an hour and feared he had escaped. Then he wandered into the exercise yard, saying he had been sunbathing.

Avigdor Feldman, Vanunu's lawyer, said he had not been allowed out of his cell to mingle with other prisoners since June. "They suddenly came up with the grotesque idea that he would have to report to the prison office every 30 minutes," said Feldman. "Quite rightly, Mordechai refused to comply. He had done nothing to deserve such a response. Nevertheless, they forced him to return to solitary confinement and he has been there ever since."

Feldman has protested to Israel's prisons commissioner and is preparing to seek a court order for Vanunu's release from isolation. "My fear is that as he is getting closer to release they are trying to break his will," said Feldman. "I know of no other prisoner in Israel who is treated in this outrageous way."

Vanunu is serving 18 years for his 1986 disclosures about Israel's secret nuclear plant at Dimona, in the Negev desert. As his story was being prepared for publication, a woman agent lured him from London to Rome, where he was kidnapped and smuggled out to Israel by the Mossad secret intelligence service.

His case has become a cause celebre worldwide, partly because of the way the courts interpreted his decision to leak the information as treachery and espionage. He was in solitary confinement for the first 11 1/2 years of his sentence.

News of Vanunu's return to solitary emerged after a visit by his brother, Asher, who found him dejected but determined not to comply with the conditions. He said a release date had been set for April 22, 2004, six months before the end of the full sentence.

Susannah York, the actress, who has been prominent in the campaign in Britain to win Vanunu's release, said it was a dreadful shock and "an example of Israel's barbarity" to learn he was in solitary once again. "This courageous man has suffered too much for his beliefs, " she said.

She was attending a vigil yesterday close to the Israeli embassy in London, where she was joined by other supporters, including Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP, Tom Conti, the actor, and peace campaigners Bruce Kent and Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat.

Demonstrations were being organised this weekend in several other countries, including Australia and Sweden. There was trouble at a similar protest in Washington last Thursday, when a dozen supporters including Sam Day, head of the US campaign to release Vanunu, were arrested for disorderly conduct outside the Israeli embassy and held in jail overnight.

The demonstration followed a conference on the Vanunu case at which extracts from a recent letter from Vanunu were read out. It was sent before he was returned to solitary confinement. Vanunu wrote: "They have no new invention for surprising me."