but I'm not totally free...'
A legal challenge has been made against the stifling restrictions placed on Mordechai Vanunu upon his release from Ashkelon Prison.
Dan Yakir and Oded Feller, attorneys with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), filed an appeal of the restrictions on June 3. The hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. on June 28 before a panel of the most senior justices of the Supreme Court, President Barak, Deputy President Maza and Justice Cheshin. It is not certain whether this will be a preliminary or full hearing.
On May 22, Vanunu gave an exclusive, in-depth interview to Israeli journalist Yael Lotan, a founder of the Israeli Free Vanunu committee. An independent video crew was also there to record the interview, which was later published in the London Sunday Times and broadcast on the BBC. (Although both a BBC crew and ex-Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam were present in Israel, as foreign journalists they are forbidden by the restrictions from interviewing Vanunu. Hounam, who had spent weeks with Vanunu as he wrote the original expose for the Sunday Times in 1986, has continued to follow the story as an independent journalist.)
The day after the interview, a BBC reporter was detained at Ben Gurion Airport while leaving Israel, and tapes in his possession were confiscated.
Then, on May 26, police in Israel arrested Peter Hounam, and suggested he was engaging in aggravated espionage. As police escorted Hounam back to the hotel to search his room and possessions, they passed through the dining area. Hounam reached out and grabbed an Amnesty International official he saw, shouting that he had been arrested and asking that she call the Sunday Times.
Newspapers around the world - keen to support their profession - reported Hounam's arrest and were obliged to remind readers of the context: that the nuclear whistleblower Vanunu is still not truly free. Many organizations decried Israel's outrageous move in arresting a foreign journalist, and the arrest created quite a scandal in Israel.
Reuters quoted Vanunu's reaction, that Hounam's arrest was another part of "the continued war by the Shabak (Shin Bet internal security service) against me and my supporters and those who want to raise Israeli nuclear secrets."
Hounam was held overnight. He agreed to leave Israel voluntarily and does not face prosecution.
The Sunday Times published the interview over two Sundays, May 30 and June 6. That same week, the BBC broadcast the interview as part of a longer production. Newspaper articles in Israel reported that Israeli authorities are examining whether Vanunu has violated any of his restrictions.
One day after Hounam was released from custody, Bishop Riah, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem who has given Vanunu sanctuary at St. George's Cathedral, was detained when he returned to Israel from a trip to Jordan. He was searched and also interrogated in relation to the interview.
Others from the church have since been questioned as well.
The Bishop affirmed his commitment to Vanunu's safety in the sanctuary of the church. Meanwhile, efforts are being made by supporters around the world to win Mordechai's true freedom.
Individuals are asked to write to the Israeli ambassador in their country and to other Israeli officials protesting the restrictions. In Britain, several Vanunu-related Early Day Motions in Parliament have received broad support, including an invitation for Vanunu to speak in Parliament, and others condemning the restrictions and the arrest of Hounam.
Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who was among the international delegates greeting Vanunu, is circulating a letter in support of him among her Peace Prize colleagues. The international campaigns have drafted this brief petition: "LET MORDECHAI VANUNU GO! He has served his full sentence, and is not charged with any offenses. Lift all the restrictions."
Notable signers are being solicited, among them politicians from different countries, including members of the U.S. Congress who signed a letter in support of Mordechai in 1999.
The aim is to publish the petition and signatures in Israeli newspapers. People can also sign at www.vanunu.com
Mordechai Vanunu now must wait for the appeal to be considered. If it is unsuccessful, other diplomatic means to get him safely out of Israel are being pursued, including Vanunu's public appeal to Norway to give him a passport on humanitarian grounds. Mordechai has left prison but is not yet free. The international campaigns continue to work for Mordechai's total freedom, so that he can leave Israel without restriction and begin his new life.