NEW YORK — On May 23, Mordechai Vanunu, whom Amnesty International calls a “prisoner of conscience,” was sent to prison for three months, accused of violating the terms of his 2004 release from prison. He has spent 18 years in prison, the first 11 years in solitary confinement.
According to Amnesty International, the 2004 restrictions placed on Vanunu did not include parole, since he had already served his full sentence: “They arbitrarily limited his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association and were therefore in breach of international law.”
Vanunu is the former Israeli nuclear technician who, in 1986, revealed details of Israel’s nuclear program to the British press. While working as a technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, he became increasingly concerned about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and its nuclear strategies in case of war. The information he revealed was published by the Sunday Times. He estimated, at the time, that Israel had produced more than 100 nuclear warheads.
Lured to Italy by a Mossad agent, he was kidnapped by Israeli operatives, transported to Israel and charged with treason and espionage. He was condemned to 18 years in prison in a trial conducted behind closed doors.
Conditions for his 2004 release from prison subjected him to several restrictions on speech and movement. He was arrested several times for violating those restrictions. According to Israeli officials, his latest prison sentence is the result of his violating the conditions of his 2004 release.
Acknowledgment of possessing nuclear weapons has considerable ramifications for Israel. By denying possession of such weapons, Israel avoids U.S. legal restrictions on funding countries that have a rapid increase in weapons of mass destruction. At present, Israel receives more than $3 billion a year in military and other aid from Washington.
Although Vanunu is widely reviled in Israel and by many Jews overseas, he is admired by peace-loving people throughout the world. In 1987, he received the Right Livelihood award and, in 2001, an honorary doctorate from the University of Tromso, Norway. In 2005, he was awarded the Peace Prize of the Norwegian People. Daniel Ellbersg has called him “the pre-eminent hero of the nuclear era.”
Despite his ordeal, Vanunu remains defiant. In the poem “Buried Alive,” in which he compares solitary confinement to living in a grave, he writes: “Now, iron gates, doors, grills, cement in this concrete world solidifying me. Only my mind, my spirit is free — free to remember why I am in prison but not a prison for my spirit. They cannot chain my mind.”
Haaretz military affairs correspondent Yossi Melman, states: “In a proud country celebrating its 60th anniversary, which purports to observe the judicial and moral norms of the enlightened world, one might have expected it to take courage and allow Mordechai Vanunu to be free, once and for all.”
Cesar Chelala, Ph.D. and M.D., is a cowinner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.