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Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu went on trial yesterday, accused of violating terms of his release from prison by talking to foreign reporters and trying to visit the West Bank.

Vanunu, 50, was released last April 21 after serving an 18-year term for spilling secrets to a British newspaper about the Dimona nuclear reactor. The revelations of the former technician confirmed to experts that Israel had nuclear weapons.

"It is shameful to Israeli democracy to bring me back to court after all those years in prison," Vanunu told Reuters outside the Jerusalem court. "This case is proving to the world that Israel is not a real democracy. As a human being, I have the right to express my political views and my ideas. I have no more secrets."

Under the terms of Vanunu's release, he was forbidden from speaking to foreign media and had to remain inside Israel. If convicted of violating the bans, he could be jailed for up to two years.

Vanunu did not enter any plea in court, as his lawyer challenged the validity of the case. The next hearing is due on May 19 before presiding Judge Yoel Tzur, who will rule on the preliminary motions.

The bans are due to be reviewed this month. The Justice Ministry said in a statement that an extension was being considered, but that Vanunu would be allowed to plead his case and a final decision had yet to be made.

"Let me leave, let me go," Vanunu told reporters. "Enough."

An indictment filed in a Jerusalem court last month charged him with 21 counts of violating the restrictions.

The indictment listed interviews in the U.S., British, Australian and French media, and quoted Vanunu as saying Israel had assembled hydrogen and neutron bombs at Dimona and was annually producing 40 kilograms of plutonium at the facility, enough to make 10 atomic bombs.

Speaking briefly in Hebrew to reporters outside the court, Vanunu accused Yehiel Horev, the head of the Defense Ministry's security division, of confirming the information on Israel's nuclear capacity by prosecuting him.

Vanunu also handed out copies of a letter informing him that the IDF's Home Front Command was considering extending the orders restricting his movements, which are due to expire on April 19.

On November 11, Police arrested Vanunu - a convert to Christianity - at the St. George's Cathedral church in Jerusalem where he has lived since he left jail, and brought him to a court in Petah Tikva on suspicion of having spilled more state secrets to the foreign press.

After a full day of interrogation, he was released under house arrest, and has since remained under constant surveillance.

The indictment also charged him with violating a ban on travel overseas or to the Palestinian territories. Vanunu was briefly detained by Israeli police after he tried to visit Bethlehem last Christmas.

Vanunu's lawyers, Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, argued in court that the injunction prevents him from meeting with non-Israelis, but that the state had not presented any legal basis to support the claim that the people Vanunu met with are, indeed, foreigners.

The lawyers also claimed that their client had not violated the injunction against travel outside of Israel, since he was apprehended at a roadblock south of Jerusalem. He was not, they stressed, apprehended at a recognized border between Israel and another sovereign state that necessitates the use of a passport.