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Vanunu fears for his life after street threats

Peter Hounam
Sunday Times
June 06 2004

THREATS of violence against Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear whistleblower, have heightened fears for his safety as he continues to be held in Israel under severe restrictions on his movements imposed by the security authorities.

On two occasions in the past few days he has had to avoid jeering opponents who have vowed to kill him. "It could have been nasty but Mordechai was accompanied on both occasions," his brother Meir said yesterday.

"It proved just what hatred and incitement in the media has been whipped up against him in this country. It strengthens the case for all the restrictions to be lifted."

Vanunu left jail in April after serving an 18-year sentence for treason and espionage for leaking details of Israel's nuclear weapons programme to The Sunday Times. Israeli authorities have barred him from leaving the country or communicating with foreigners on grounds that he could reveal more secrets.

In the first incident last week, Vanunu was with a woman friend near the hostel of St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem where he has been given sanctuary, when he was spotted by supporters of Kahane, a banned right-wing group. They began to follow him shouting "traitor" and "we will eliminate you", but he walked quickly away and returned home safely.

The second incident occurred last Thursday after Vanunu visited the Jerusalem offices of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri), which is representing him in a petition to the High Court against the restrictions. He was walking along the road outside when two men began to follow. They shouted death threats but were prevented from getting close by Meir and a friend.

Vanunu had been attending a press launch of his petition, at which he stressed he had no new secrets to reveal and no intention to harm Israel. He added: "As long as there are restrictions on me, I will speak only English with Israeli journalists. My future is abroad and not in Israel."

Acri argues that the restrictions are a denial of Vanunu's basic human rights. It also criticises the way authorities used a psychiatrist's report to show he still intended to damage Israel's security, even though the psychiatrist never met him and relied on a video interview of him speaking to a prison employee.

In an interview in today's Sunday Times, Vanunu describes how his political activities brought him into confrontation with the authorities during his time at the Dimona nuclear plant, where he took redundancy in 1985.

Before leaving he took photographs of the plant and after a period spent traveling abroad, deeply troubled by secrets he felt the world should know, decided to go public. "It had become my responsibility," he says.

In his submission, Dan Yakir, Vanunu's chief legal counsel, said his client was being forced to live in a society where "the only people who would seek out his company are denied him".

The High Court will consider Vanunu's case before it goes into summer recess in mid-July, and the government must file its response to the petition at least seven days beforehand.

In the past 10 days there has been a chorus of criticism in the Israeli press about the way the security authorities have handled the Vanunu affair. Haaretz, a leading daily newspaper, called for the restrictions to be lifted.

Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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