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Vanunu arrested again by Israelis

By Phil Gasper | November 19, 2004 | Page 7

MORDECHAI VANUNU, the whistleblower who served 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons program, was rearrested last week. Vanunu was carted off to jail again and then placed under house arrest after police commandos swooped in on St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, where Vanunu has sought refuge for the past several months.

In 1986, Vanunu--a former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant--revealed to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper that Israel had constructed several hundred warheads. As retribution, Vanunu was kidnapped from Italy by Israeli agents, charged with treason and espionage and imprisoned for nearly two decades, much of that time in solitary confinement.

When he was finally released last April, Vanunu was denied the right to travel freely, forbidden to leave Israel and required to obtain permission before speaking to foreign citizens. Vanunu, a Noble Peace Prize nominee, refused to be bound by these unprecedented restrictions and granted interviews to various Western media outlets.

He is now being accused of "passing classified information to unauthorized parties," a charge that even many Israeli commentators consider absurd, since Vanunu already revealed everything he knew about Israel's nuclear program nearly two decades ago. "I don't have any secrets," Vanunu has said. "I cannot invent new secrets. Remember, these secrets are now 19 or 20 years old."

But according to Professor Shlomo Aronson of Hebrew University, an expert on Israel's nuclear program, Vanunu's frequent reminders that Israel has nuclear weapons are embarrassing to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--particularly at a time when it wants the international community to condemn Iran's nuclear weapons program. "Vanunu is harming the war against the Iranian bomb by creating a linkage with Israel's program," Aronson told reporters.

Vanunu's arrest received little attention in the U.S., but was condemned by leaders of the Anglican Church and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), among others. "It is extraordinary that a country calling itself the only democracy in the Middle East is itself guilty of this disgraceful and grotesque abuse of democracy," said IFJ general secretary Aidan White. "Vanunu has served his time, but continues to be persecuted. This is intimidation, pure and simple."

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