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UK JOURNALIST RELEASED FROM JAIL

- from Rayna Moss, Israeli Committee to Free Vanunu

Peter Hounam was released at 8:30 p.m. today (May 27) after spending 24 hours in detention. Dozens of media reporters covered his release from the Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem, which was shown live on major Israeli television news programs.

Hounam told reporters: "I was held in a dungeon with excrement on the walls. I was interrogated for eight hours and given only two hours of sleep. If that is 'decent treatment' I have many questions about this country, which claims to be a Western democracy."

After telling reporters that he had been accused of aggravated espionage and calling the charge "laughable", Hounam disregarded questions put to him and demanded to make a statement: "I was fortunate to have support from the British Consulate; I have two excellent lawyers, Michael Sfard and Avigdor Feldman; there are people in those dungeons who are stuck there..." At that point, when Hounam attempted to draw world attention to the dozens of Palestinian detainees who are routinely detained at the Russian Compound without access to lawyers and subjected to torture, Israel's Channel 2 cut off the live interview.

Hounam's lawyers negotiated with the Shin Bet and managed to prevent the Sunday Times reporter from being deported from Israel, which would have prevented him from returning in the future. Hounam is expected to leave Israel over the weekend, as he originally planned to do before he was arrested.

According to Israeli media, Hounam's arrest violated an agreement between the Shin Bet and the State judiciary, which only approved monitoring his movements. The Justice and Foreign Ministries and other security agencies were caught by surprise at the Shin Bet's arrest of Hounam and Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said this evening in an interview with Israel's Channel 10: "Peter Hounam will be released this evening so that this scandal doesn't get any worse."

Gideon Spiro, a member of the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu, said in an interview today, that Yechiel Horev, the security boss who has hounded Vanunu for the past 18 years, was behind Hounam's arrest, in an attempt to keep silencing Vanunu and punishing people close to him. "They can't stand the fact that Vanunu has been released and is a sane and charming person, so they are acting out of vengeance."

Two members of the BBC team who had accompanied Peter Hounam in covering Vanunu's release last month had been detained for 24 hours after they were arrested at the airport when they attempted to leave Israel and return to Britain. Their taped interview with Vanunu, conducted by Israeli journalist Yael Lotan, was confiscated by the Shin Bet.

-Rayna Moss


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