High Court: State can continue restricting Mordechai Vanunu's freedoms

12:00 Jan 31 2015 Israeli Supreme Court, West Jerusalem

High Court: State can continue restricting Mordechai Vanunu's freedoms High Court: State can continue restricting Mordechai Vanunu's freedoms
Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, Jerusalem 2009. (Eileen Fleming CC BY-3.0)

Plutonium separation plant control room at the Dimona Reactor, as photographed and exposed by Mordechai Vanunu (photo: Mordechai Vanunu,

by Haggai Matar for

Nearly 11 years after he was released from an 18-year prison sentence for leaking information on Israel’s top-secret nuclear program, Mordechai Vanunu is still prevented from doing just about anything an average citizen can.

Three High Court justices ruled earlier this week that Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu will able allowed extremely limited contact with foreign nationals, despite allowing the Israeli government to continue and limit almost all of his freedoms.

Nearly a decade after his release from prison, where he sat for 18 years for leaking secrets about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, Vanunu is still unable to leave the country; enter the West Bank; approach border crossings, ports or airports; and is heavily restricted from communicating with foreign nationals. Vanunu is also required to obtain special permission from the Shin Bet in order to meet with a foreigner, which according to several sources is his partner.

Vanunu was employed as a radiation technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, which according to foreign sources is a facility used to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons. Vanunu was fired in 1985 due to his left-wing political activism. In 1986 he provided extensive details regarding the Negev facility to British Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam, along with pictures he took without authorization. The Mossad later lured Vanunu to Rome where Israeli agents kidnapped and renditioned him back to Israel. He was convicted of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years in prison – 11 of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Before submitting his previous appeal, Vanunu was completely forbidden from communicating with any foreign nationals. In the appeal, Attorney Michael Sfard claimed that these decade-long restrictions are akin to Vanunu’s social exclusion, since he claims that the vast majority of Israeli citizens do not want to communicate with him. Furthermore, Sfard stated that East Jerusalem (where Vanunu resides) is full of foreign nationals, and Vanunu cannot ascertain whether every person he meets is a citizen or not.

Sfard further claimed that 30 years after the end of Vanunu’s tenure at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, and since the time he passed on classified information to Hounam, his client poses no security threat.

However, in the wake of an appeal hearing in September, the state decided to slightly lessen the restrictions on Vanunu’s communication with foreign nationals:

The appellant is allowed, without prior permission, to have casual, face-to-face conversations with foreign nationals or foreign residents, on the condition that it is a one-time, unplanned conversation that takes place face-to-face in a public space open to the general population, and will be limited to 30 minutes… It must be emphasized that any conversation with foreigners will not be in print or through any means of communication, including the internet.

Vanunu and Sfard claimed that this is a harsh measure that will be difficult to uphold, since it forces Vanunu to measure the length of his conversations with every person he speaks to, and if he has spoken to someone at least once, he must ignore him/her completely after their conversation. Vanunu even announced that he is conceding this “benefit.”

However, the High Court justices decided to adopt the state’s decision to “ease” the restrictions, while approving all other restrictions on Vanunu. The justices established that they give weight to the fact that much time has passed since Vanunu’s crime, and that perhaps in the future the court will further lesson the restrictions placed on him. However, the justices also found that there is room for the state’s “caution,” without going into too much details beyond “the appellant’s history” and his “path,” since his prior convictions justify the steps taken by the state.

The decision comes less than half a year after a petition by Vanunu to the High Court submitted by Attorney Avigdor Feldman. In it Vanunu demanded to leave the country in order to attend a conference in Britain. The petition was rejected outright, despite the fact that 54 members of Parliament signed letter inviting him to the conference. At the time, Feldman told +972′s Noam Sheizaf: “I don’t know of another example or precedent like this.”

Nearly 11 years after his release from prison, the state continues with its vindictive abuse against Vanunu. And if it remains in the hands of the High Court, it looks like the state will continue doing so for years to come.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.
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