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British Journalist Held Over Vanunu Link

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
via the Independent (UK)
May 27, 2004

Peter Hounam, the Sunday Times journalist who broke the story of Mordechai Vanunu's revelations about Israel's nuclear weapons programme 18 years ago, was arrested by plain clothes agents in Tel Aviv last night.

Mr Hounam, who has been in Israel since Mr Vanunu's release last month after 18 years in prison for publishing state secrets, was seized on his way to a dinner with a longstanding Israeli supporter of the former nuclear technician.

Before being taken into custody, he was driven at high speed back to his hotel in Jerusalem where he broke away from his captors long enough to grab a fellow guest by the hair to attract her attention and urge her to "tell people, tell The Sunday Times that I am being arrested".

Mr Hounam's seizure came as he was traveling to meet Yael Lotan, an Israeli journalist and Vanunu campaigner who last Saturday conducted a two-hour interview with Mr Vanunu scheduled for publication in this weekend's Sunday Times. Mr Hounam was in detention last night, facing probable interrogation by Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service.

Ms Lotan said that she had been telephoned by Mr Hounam at about 8.10pm and that he appeared to be having trouble finding her home to take her to a restaurant which he had booked. He then failed to show up and calls to his mobile phone elicited no response. The BBC, for whom Mr Hounam has been making a documentary about Mr Vanunu, said it was "very concerned" about his arrest.

Donatella Rovera, the Middle East specialist for Amnesty International, who like Mr Hounam has been staying at the Jerusalem Hotel in Nablus Road, was sitting at a table near the door of the hotel's garden restaurant at around 9.30pm. "He grabbed me and told me to tell people that he was being arrested," she said. Ms Rovera said that he was with about five men, wearing T-shirts and jeans who then ushered him upstairs to his room.

When he came downstairs about 20 to 30 minutes later he seemed less agitated and waved to Ms Rovera as he left the hotel before being driven away in one of two unmarked cars which had been waiting outside with a police jeep. He seemed to have all his luggage with him and the agents were helping him to carry it down and out to the car.

Ms Lotan said last night that she and not Mr Hounam had conducted the interview for The Sunday Times. The conditions attached to Mr Vanunu's release severely restrict his rights to make contact with foreigners. Ms Lotan said that while the interview included a personal narrative of his period in solitary confinement, it did not contain new material threatening Israel's security. "I don't think it endangers Israel at all," she added.

After Mr Vanunu was released from prison on 21 April he was embraced by Mr Hounam in an emotional reunion as he arrived to take communion at Jerusalem's Anglican cathedral.Mr Vanunu converted to Anglicanism in the 1980s. He subsequently moved into a hostel attached to the cathedral.

A government spokesman said last night that he was unable to give details of Mr Hounam's arrest and detention because of a gagging order.


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