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Activity Builds, Interest Grows as Release Date Nears

Mordechai Vanunu's supporters around the world continue to call for his freedom as they count down the days till his April 21, 2004 release date. As they have for years, stalwart campaigners vigil each Saturday afternoon near the Israeli Embassy in London, and once a month at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In Australia, at St. John's Anglican Church in Sydney, where Mordechai was baptized, a candle is being lit at each Sunday service during the last 100 days of his sentence.

Vanunu's release date was recently confirmed to be April 21, not April 22 as previously believed.

An international delegation will be in Israel to welcome Mordechai Vanunu to freedom, with participants from the United States, Great Britain, Israel, Holland, Italy, Australia, Hungary, Japan, Norway, and more. About 20 people from the U.S. will be joining the delegation, including coordinator Felice Cohen-Joppa and associate coordinator Art Laffin, adoptive parents Nick and Mary Eoloff, Episcopal Church representatives, anti-nuclear and human rights activists, Catholic Workers and others.

A human billboard in Toronto spells it out for all to see on September 30, 17 years after Mordechai Vanunu's kidnapping and imprisonment.
- photo by Paul Dankowich

In November, the Eoloffs traveled from St. Paul, Minnesota for another prison visit in Israel. They report that Mordechai was in very high spirits with the end of his long prison sentence drawing near. He said he looks forward to meeting the many people who supported him while he was in prison. He'd lost 26 pounds since they had last visited him in May, 2003, and was now at the same weight as when he was kidnapped in Rome.

During their visit, they discussed the matter of Vanunu dismissing his attorney, Avigdor Feldman, earlier in the fall. Mordechai said that if he needs an attorney at the time of his release, he'll get one then. The Eoloffs told him that the U.S. campaign and other supporters are committed to helping him find legal counsel or whatever other assistance he requests.

In late December and early January, a flurry of international media reports confirmed that Israeli authorities are contemplating various restrictions and conditions on Vanunu after his release date, such as not allowing him to leave the country, nor talk with the press, and even possibly house arrest or administrative detention.

With the same specious arguments used to consistently deny Vanunu parole, these authorities disingenuously claim that Vanunu still threatens Israel's security with unrevealed secrets. This is of course absurd. Mordechai Vanunu has been locked away from the world for almost 18 years and has nothing further to reveal.

In recent years, there has been more information about Dimona and Israel's nuclear arsenal on Israeli television, in Israeli newspapers and on the internet than Mordechai Vanunu ever knew or shared with the London Sunday Times. A recent Israeli television program showed graphics based on his clandestine photos of Dimona.

Vanunu's brother Meir arrived in Israel in mid-February from Australia to help prepare for his release. He went with Asher, another brother who lives in Jerusalem, to visit Mordechai in prison. They reported to the press that during their visit, Mordechai again denied that he has the ability or intention to disclose any nuclear secrets. He also reaffirmed that he will never name his colleagues at Dimona.

Some have speculated that revelations about the kidnapping would be an embarrassment to Israel, so authorities hope to keep Vanunu silent about those details. But in Ha'aretz, a major Israeli daily, it was plainly stated in February that Vanunu "was kidnapped by Mossad agents in Rome in 1986 and returned to Israel," as has also been recently described on television.

Hardly a day now goes by without some mention of Vanunu and Israel's nuclear weapons in the Israeli press. Some reports simply fan the flames of misinformation with tabloid theorizing and sensational claims; others in a more calm and measured fashion examine what the government might do, and what authorities might be expected to get away with, legally. Some have even portrayed Mordechai Vanunu in a supportive and sympathetic light. Recent media reports have also mentioned his nomination again this year for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, Free Vanunu campaign offices in the U.S. and U.K. are working hard to keep up with an enormous increase in international media and public interest, spurred by the year-end headlines about possible new restrictions after Mordechai's release. The U.S. Campaign website is averaging 100 visits per day, and phone calls, mail and email messages bring frequent requests for information, literature, articles, interviews and other resources.

If Israeli authorities were smart, they would quietly grant Mordechai Vanunu his freedom before his scheduled release on April 21, before press from around the globe have gathered to cover the event and the world's attention is even more sharply focused on Israel's nuclear capability.

As Yael Lotan, co-founder of the Israeli Committee to Free Vanunu and for a Middle East Free From Weapons of Mass Destruction, recently wrote on behalf of the Committee, "We appeal to the Israeli and world public opinion to call on the Israeli government to stop this abuse and to set Mordechai Vanunu free. Instead of tormenting Vanunu, the Israeli government had better begin to shut down the Dimona reactor, sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and enter into negotiations to make the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction."

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