Amnesty International today urged the Israeli government not to imprison nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who is facing a return to jail within days.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on 11 May that Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison for revealing information about Israel’s nuclear programme, must serve a further three months for meeting a foreign national, a violation of the restrictions imposed on him by the military since his release.
“If Mordechai Vanunu is imprisoned again, Amnesty International will declare him to be a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Vanunu, 56, who is banned from leaving the country, told Amnesty International on 12 May: “Whether I go to prison or not, it doesn’t matter to me. I feel like I’m in prison already, trapped in Israel.”
A former technician at Israel’s nuclear plant near the southern town of Dimona, Vanunu revealed details of the country’s nuclear arsenal to UK newspaper The Sunday Times in 1986.
He was abducted by Mossad agents in Italy on 30 September 1986 and secretly taken to Israel where he was tried and sentenced to a prison term of 18 years, the first 11 years of which he spent in solitary confinement.
When he was released in April 2004, the Israeli authorities considered placing him under administrative detention, but the option was rejected as illegal by Israel’s Attorney General.
Instead, he has been subject to police supervision since his release under the terms of a draconian military order which is renewed every six months, most recently in April 2010. According to the order, Vanunu is banned from communicating with foreigners, including journalists; he cannot leave the country; he is forbidden from visiting foreign embassies; and must inform the authorities if he wishes to change addresses.
“The ongoing restrictions placed on Mordechai Vanunu have meant that he has been unable to move to the USA to live with his adopted family, placing a huge strain on his mental and physical health,” said Philip Luther.
“They.are not parole restrictions since he served his full 18-year term. They arbitrarily limit his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association are therefore in breach of international law.”
Vanunu was convicted on 30 April 2007 of contact with a foreign national without authorization and sentenced to six months, reduced on appeal to three.
He was given the option of doing community service in West Jerusalem instead of serving the three months in jail. He declined, citing fears for his safety as many Israelis consider him a national traitor, and instead offered to carry out the service in Palestinian East Jerusalem, where he now lives. The court refused and ordered him to be returned to jail by 23 May.
Speaking to Amnesty International, Vanunu expressed a sense of hopelessness, saying despite international efforts when he was in prison and subsequently to lift the restrictions imposed on him by the Israeli authorities “no one has been able to help for 24 years”.
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