Amnesty International Calls on Israel to Let Vanunu Go

Nuclear whistle-blower who was released from prison in 2004 should be allowed to leave Israel and speak to anyone he wants, rights group says.

Mordechai  Vanunu at ACRI offices, Jerusalem, June 2, 2004
Mordechai Vanunu holding a copy of the Sunday Times article that landed him in jail, in Jerusalem in 2004. AP

Amnesty International called on Israel on Wednesday to lift restrictions on Mordecai Vanunu, a decade after he was released from an 18-year prison sentence for disclosing information to journalists about Israel's nuclear program.

"The authorities' continued punishment of Mordechai Vanunu appears to be purely vindictive," said Avner Gidron, senior policy adviser at Amnesty International. "The continued restrictions on his liberty have placed a severe strain on his mental and physical health and should immediately be lifted."

Vanunu, a former technician at Israel's nuclear reactor, is banned from leaving Israel and participating in Internet chats, and must seek permission to communicate with journalists or any foreign nationals. Amnesty International is calling on Israel to allow Vanunu to leave the country and exercise his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association.

Israel says the restrictions are necessary to prevent Vanunu from divulging further secrets, but Vanunu says he has no further information to reveal. The state told the High Court of Justice in December, as the court heard the seventh petition Vanunu has filed against the court order prohibiting him from leaving Israel, that the information he possesses from the time he worked at the nuclear reactor in Dimona about 30 years ago is still relevant and that its revelation would endanger Israel's security.

"The government's arguments that these severe restrictions are necessary for national security are ludicrous," said Gidron.

Vanunu's lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said the information is no longer relevant. “We are talking about information gathered about the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Feldman told the High Court in December. “The work ended in 1985 – in other words, [nearly] 29 years ago. This is information which has expired."

Vanunu was convicted in March 1988 of treason and espionage after revealing details to Britain's Sunday Times in 1986 about what he said was Israel's nuclear arsenal, and sentenced to 18 years in jail. Israel maintains a policy of "nuclear ambiguity," in which it officially refuses to confirm what foreign media say is a nuclear weapon arsenal.

Vanunu served 11 and a half years of his sentence in isolation because of the government's fear that he would disclose information to unauthorized sources. He was released in April 2004.