Israel’s nuclear whistleblower detained over ‘long conversation’ with foreigners

Mordechai Vanunu, who is under strict restrictions following his release from prison nine years ago, was held by police for hours over Independence Day incident.

By Uri Misgav | Haaretz | Apr. 29, 2015 |

Almost 30 years after Mordechai Vanunu exposed Israel’s alleged nuclear secrets, it seems he remains a hot target for the police and intelligence services. Vanunu disappeared last Thursday, on Israel’s Independence Day. A small group of his friends and acquaintances searched for him, but he did not answer his cell phone or respond to messages.

The mystery was only solved the next morning. Michael Sfard, a lawyer and human rights activist, revealed Wednesday that Vanunu spent many hours that evening at the police station in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. In a post on his Facebook page, Sfard said Vanunu was arrested by a group of seven Border Police officers and a female police officer, on suspicions he had violated the conditions governing his release from prison — when by chance he held a conversation in public with foreigners for more than half an hour.

Vanunu was sentenced in 1986 to 18 years in prison for treason and espionage, and was released in 2004 with harsh restrictions on his rights, including the requirement to report on his movements, a ban on his leaving Israel or approaching its borders, as well as a ban on speaking to foreigners.

Five years ago, Vanunu was imprisoned for three months for violating these restrictions. Last December, after Vanunu filed a petition, the head of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, signed an order that somewhat eased these conditions. Under the new conditions, Vanunu is still not allowed to speak with foreigners, but he is allowed to “hold a chance conversation in person with foreign citizens or foreign residents, as long as it is a one-time conversation that is held face-to-face, not planned in advance, takes place in a public space open to the general public and which lasts for a period of no more than 30 minutes.”

Sfard said that on Independence Day, Vanunu sat in the international book store at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. While he was there, he spoke with two tourists who happened to enter the store. At some point the police entered the bookstore and arrested Vanunu and one of the people involved in the conversation. During his questioning at the Russian Compound police station, there was a long discussion over the question of how long the conversation in the bookstore went on, whether it lasted more than 30 minutes and how the calculation should be made because Vanunu spoke to two people at the same time.

Vanunu was released that evening after hours of questioning. Sfard included in his post two responses Vanunu sent from his Facebook account, which include photographs of the arrest. Vanunu can be seen being lead by two police officers, and he added captions to the pictures. Since his release, Vanunu has avoided contact with the Israeli media, and says he will continue to do so until he is allowed to speak to the foreign press too.

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