Mordechai Vanunu Released from Prison
Israel's Nuclear Whistleblower Is Free after 18 Years
May 17, 2004

Compiled from various activist and international media sources

On April 21, 2004, Mordechai Vanunu walked out of his prison cell in Israel for the first time in 18 years. Vanunu has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past 14 years.
In 1986, at the height of the Cold War, Mordechai Vanunu's clandestine photos from inside Israel's secret Dimona nuclear center revealed that Israel had secretly built and stockpiled 200 thermonuclear weapons. Kidnapped by Israeli agents just before his story appeared in the London Sunday Times, Vanunu was convicted of espionage and treason in a secret trial.

Vanunu has always maintained that he acted out of a belief that, in a democracy, people should know about and debate such a pivotal issue as nuclear weapons. On Tuesday, April 20, an international delegation began a vigil outside the gates of Ashkelon Prison in anticipation of Vanunu's release while simultaneous vigils were held in New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, Toronto, Rome, Lisbon, London, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Makati City (Philippines), Sydney, Wellington, Vancouver, Birmingham, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania), and Edina (Minnesota).

When Mordechai Vanunu walked out of Shikma Prison Wednesday morning, he was cheered by international anti-nuclear, peace and human rights activists and many Israeli supporters. Supporters showered him with bouquets of flowers and raised signs with the words "Thank you, Mordechai Vanunu -- Peace Hero, Nuclear Whistleblower." Finally, his supporters celebrated his freedom with the release of 18 white doves -- one for each year of his imprisonment.

Released but Not Yet Free
But Vanunu was not really free. Israeli authorities have issued a set of restrictions with the intent of "banning" Vanunu from participating fully in civil society, at risk of further imprisonment. As Rayna Moss of the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu explained, even as Vanunu stepped outside the prison gates, his supporters were not free "to greet him face-to-face, shake his hand, embrace, or break bread with Vanunu without putting him at risk to be immediately arrested and returned to prison."

Vanunu's restrictions (base on controls imposed under emergency rules inherited by Israel from the 1940s British mandate over Palestine) stipulate:

  • He will have to register to live in an Israeli city of his choice.
  • He will have to give notice to the authorities if he wishes to travel to another city.
  • He will not be allowed to leave Israel for 6 months. This restriction will be reviewed at the end of 6 months and could be renewed.
  • He will not be allowed to contact foreigners either by phone or in person.
  • It is unclear whether his American adoptive parents, who have been allowed to visit him while in custody, will be allowed to speak to him when free.
  • He will not be allowed to go within 100 meters of any embassy, visit any port of entry, come within 300 meters of any international boundary and he may not be allowed to worship in a church of his choice.

    A rare photo of Vanunu during a fruitless parole hearing years ago inside the Ashkelon Prison.
    International Condemnation of Restrictions
    Lawyers representing Vanunu appealed the ban on travel within or outside of Israel and the ban on all contact with foreigners "This is just the continuation of his confinement with different conditions," said Oded Feller, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

    Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Israel has ratified and is obliged to uphold) stipulates that: "everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence" and that "everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own." The rights to freedom of expression and association are guaranteed by Articles 19 and 21 of the same Covenant.

    Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg declared that the "outrageous and illegal restrictionsÂ… should be widely protested and rejected, not only because they violate his fundamental human rights but because the world needs to hear this free man's voice."

    "To restrict his right of free movement and free speech upon his release would bring the treatment of Vanunu to new, unimaginable levels of illegality and cruelty," said Fredrik S. Heffermehl of Norway, Vice President of International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

    Amnesty International stated: "Vanunu should be allowed to exercise his rights to freedom of movement, association and expression in Israel and should be allowed to leave the country if he wishes.... His release is long overdue and Israel must not continue to violate his fundamental human rights once he is released from prison...

    Additional International Condemnations
  • Mary Eoloff [Minnesota, USA] adoptive mother of Mordechai Vanunu:
    "The State is denying basic human rights to a person who has already completed his sentence.... He has the right of expression just like any citizen, and that cannot be taken away from him."

  • Felice Cohen-Joppa, Coordinator of the US Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu: "This is an outrageous injustice not fitting for a democratic nation. With these restrictions, the Israeli government is building a special prison just for Mordechai Vanunu."

  • The Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu: "The restrictions and prohibitions which the Sharon-Lapid government intends to impose characterize tyrannical regimes, and it is not surprising that the order was signed by the Homeland Defense Commander.... We wish to remind the public, that former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and two former Justice Ministers, Yakov Shimshon Shapira and Dov Yosef, denounced the regulations as being Nazi in nature."

  • Issam Makhoul, Israeli-Arab Member of the Knesset: "When Mordechai Vanunu is released from that terrible cell in Ashkelon Prison, he will not leave behind a void; he will leave behind a shout, which should become the call for the emergence of an Israeli anti-nuclear movement."

  • Alyn Ware [New Zealand], Vice-President of International Peace Bureau and global coordinator of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament:
    "The safety of well-known peace advocates is of concern.... Issam Makhoul, who has spoken out on nuclear weapons issues in the Israeli Parliament, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt recently.... Given the tense situation, the presence of extremists willing to direct violence against individuals, and the fact that some reports in Israeli media have labeled Vanunu a traitor to the country, we would be concerned if he is prevented from leaving Israel, if that were to be his choice."

    The following press reports provide background on Vanunu's status:

    Anglican Bishop Offers Sanctuary in Church
    Yossi Melman / Haaretz

    JERUSALEM (April 28, 2004) -- Anglican Bishop Abu Al Assal has offered Mordechai Vanunu unlimited sanctuary at St. George's church's guest house in East Jerusalem. Last night, Bishop Assal held a dinner for Vanunu, to express his support for the former nuclear technician who was recently freed from Shekma Prison. Vanunu and his brother Meir have not left the grounds of St. George's church for days.

    This week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which is representing Vanunu, and Israeli security officials worked out procedures for examining journals and letters confiscated from Vanunu's prison cell. The most controversial item is a journal which Vanunu says he wrote in 1991, and which reportedly features written explanations and drawings relating to production processes at Dimona nuclear reactor.

    Yehiel Horev, the chief security officer for the Defense Ministry, has indicated that this journal justifies the imposition of security restrictions on Vanunu, on the grounds that he still possesses classified information about the reactor and the will to disclose it. ACRI says the journal belongs to Vanunu and that it is needed for the preparation of a High Court petition calling for lifting current restrictions on him.

    Bishop Fears Murder Attempt on Vanunu
    Ian MacKinnon / The Times (UK)

    JERUSALEM (April 27, 2004) -- The Anglican bishop who has given Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower, sanctuary in a Jerusalem cathedral said yesterday that he had grave concerns for the life of the Christian convert amid threats from Jewish extremists.

    The bishop said that he believed that it was the Church's duty to provide sanctuary to those in fear for their lives, just as Jews had received shelter in convents and monasteries during the Second World War.

    "My fear is that someone with a gun will come in here and get him," the Right Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal, Bishop of Jerusalem, said. "We wouldn't like anything to happen to him anywhere in the world, least of all while he's in the sanctuary of a church."

    However, the bishop, who is thought to be under pressure from the Israeli authorities to evict Vanunu from St George's Cathedral, declined to give an open-ended commitment to allow him to stay as long as he wished.

    Despite real fears for Vanunu's safety from extremists (Yitzak Rabin, the former Prime Minister, was assassinated by a right-wing Jew) security around the cathedral's residential compound in east Jerusalem was non-existent yesterday. Occasional visitors were buzzed through the electronic front gate and permitted to wander unchallenged through the high-walled gardens of gravel paths, roses and ancient olive trees where Vanunu, 50, had been seen eating lunch in the afternoon sun.

    The Israeli Government has not offered protection to Vanunu, who is widely detested for leaking the country's nuclear secrets to The Sunday Times. Family members conceded that he could not rely on the Church's hospitality indefinitely. Meir Vanunu, his brother, said they were aware of the cathedral's delicate position in relation to the Israeli authorities.

    A lawyer from Israel's civil rights' association, which is helping Vanunu to fight restrictions that prevent him leaving the country, said that the case could take a month to come before the Supreme Court and up to three months to conclude. Part of the petition due to be filed will include fears for Vanunu's safety if he is forced to remain in the country for 12 months, particularly since Israel's security establishment leaked his planned address.

    "There's no more hated man in Israel than Mordechai Vanunu," Meir Vanunu said. "Without a shadow of doubt, while he remains here his life is at risk. If he can't have security in a church, where can he have it?"

    'Protect Vanunu' Plea to Archbishop
    Ian MacKinnon / The Times (UK)

    JERUSALEM, April 26 - The Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu yesterday abandoned plans to worship at the Anglican cathedral where he has taken refuge, for fear that an assassin would infiltrate the congregation. Vanunu's brother, Meir, appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury to press Israel to allow his brother to leave the country.

    Right-wing thugs from the outlawed Kahane movement clashed with Vanunu's supporters and threw stones at his car as he completed 18 years in jail last week. One extremist, Itamar Bengevir, flung himself at the car and turned up outside the Jerusalem cathedral's residential quarters the next day, pledging to stalk the "traitor."

    "We will pursue Vanunu wherever he goes," Mr Bengevir told The Times last night. "He's hiding in church. Why's that? Because he's afraid of us. Wherever he goes, we'll be there. He'll never be able to walk free until the last day of his life. My suggestion to him is to go back to prison. He'll never lead a normal life."

    An Israeli human rights group demanded that the justice department should investigate the editor of the mass-circulation Maariv on "suspicion of incitement to murder". A reader poll asked what should happen to Vanunu with one option: "Kill him."

    Vanunu remained hidden inside the cloistered gardens of St George's, with only two church wardens as security. Vanunu was offered sanctuary by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, after his planned temporary address in Jaffa was leaked by the security establishment.

    What You Can Do:
    Call or fax the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC and demand that the restrictions be dropped. Israeli Embassy Political Department, (202) 364-5581, (202) 364-5582, Fax: (202) 364-5490.
    You can write to Mordechai Vanunu c/o Cathedral Church of St. George, 20 Nablus Road, PO Box 19018, Jerusalem 91190, Israel. He can also receive email now at

    For more information:
  • US Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, POB 43384, Tucson, AZ 85733, Phone/Fax 520-323-8697,
  • The Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons, Tel. +972-02-6254530, +972-051-368236
  • Rayna Moss, Israeli Free Vanunu Campaign, Tel. +972 051 368 236

    For more information contact:

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