The Israeli authorities should drop the new charges made earlier this week against the nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, as well as lifting all restrictions still imposed on him, Amnesty International has said.
On 8 May, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court charged Mr Vanunu with breaching restrictions against his rights to freedoms of movement and expression.
The new charges apparently relate to a meeting he had with two US nationals three years ago; an interview he gave to the Israeli broadcaster Channel 2 last September, for which he had already been punished; and moving his residence within the same building without informing the police.
If Vanunu is convicted and imprisoned under the new charges, Amnesty would consider him a prisoner of conscience held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, and the organisation would call for his immediate and unconditional release.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted the response of his lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, to this latest move by the Israeli state as “a record low … in its persecution and abuse of Mordechai Vanunu ... I’m ashamed, and whoever filed this indictment should be even more ashamed.” Feldman said the charges are being made in preparation for Vanunu’s latest attempt to challenge an international travel ban, which expired recently but was extended by a temporary court order.
This latest development is illustrative of a pattern of persecution Vanunu has faced since he was released from prison 12 years ago after serving an 18-year sentence for disclosing information on Israel’s secret nuclear capacity in 1986. Since his release from prison in 2004, Vanunu and his lawyers have fought without success to end a series of cruel and unnecessary restrictions which prevent him from leaving Israel, communicating with foreigners - including journalists - without the prior agreement of the authorities, entering or approaching foreign embassies, and participating in internet chats, and which require that he notify the police if he moves residence.
Amnesty observed that the Israeli government’s contention that Vanunu’s freedom must be severely curtailed because he poses a threat to national security, becomes more and more ludicrous as each year passes, with Vanunu’s decades-old information about Israel’s nuclear programme long since made public.
Pattern of arbitrary restrictions on his freedom
Last September, Vanunu was put under one week’s house arrest and banned from using the internet and communicating with journalists as punishment for an interview he gave to Israel’s Channel 2. According to Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel, Channel 2 said the broadcast was pre-approved by the military censor but police asked to see the full unedited interview, with the Israeli authorities apparently objecting to something Vanunu said during the making of the interview but which was not broadcast. In the interview, Vanunu talked about his motivation in divulging information about Israel’s nuclear armoury, his subsequent abduction by Mossad (Israel’s secret services) from Italy in 1986 and his marriage last May to long-term partner, Norwegian professor of theology Kristin Joachimsen, and his desire to move to Norway to live with her
In 2014, Israel’s Supreme Court denied a petition from his lawyers to lift his travel ban so he could participate in an Amnesty event on whistle-blowers in the UK, as well as attend an event at the UK Parliament to which he was invited by 54 parliamentarians.
In 2010 Vanunu was imprisoned for three months after being convicted of breaching the restrictions on him by speaking to foreigners and attempting to attend Christmas Mass in Bethlehem. At the time Amnesty considered him to be a prisoner of conscience.
1980s nuclear whistle-blower
It is widely acknowledged that any information Vanunu disclosed to journalists about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme is already in the public domain and is in any case 30 years out of date. There is no evidence to suggest he has committed any criminal offence. The ongoing restrictions against him are arbitrary and contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary interference in the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and protects individuals from being punished again for the same offence. Vanunu worked as a technician at Israel’s nuclear plant near the southern town of Dimona. After revealing details of the country’s nuclear arsenal to The Sunday Times he was abducted by Mossad agents in Italy on 30 September 1986 and secretly taken to Israel where he was tried and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.
According to nuclear physicist Frank Barnaby, who interviewed Vanunu in September 1986 in his role as a consultant to The Sunday Times newspaper prior to its publication of Vanunu’s revelations, Vanunu was motivated by a belief that the Israeli and international public had a right to know about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. According to Barnaby, Vanunu “seemed to be acting ideologically”.
Vanunu was held in prolonged secret detention, in violation of the prohibition of arbitrary arrest or detention contained in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There are also serious concerns about the secrecy of his trial and the severe nature of the charges on which he was convicted, as well as the 11 years he spent in solitary confinement between 1986 and 2004, which amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment