The International Federation of Journalists today accused the Israeli authorities of “a disgraceful abuse of democracy” over the intimidation of Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle-blower arrested yesterday by Israeli police just six months after his release from jail, where he served 18 years for telling the world about Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
“It is extraordinary that a country calling itself the only democracy in the Middle East is itself guilty of this disgraceful and grotesque abuse of democracy,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Vanunu has served his time but continues to be persecuted.”
Vanunu was arrested on suspicion of leaking classified information to unauthorised parties and violating the terms of his release. Since his release in April this year he has been barred from leaving Israel and meeting with foreign media. The IFJ says it is absurd to imagine that after so long in jail he could possibly have any secrets to give away. “This is intimidation, pure and simple,” said White.
Vanunu was detained by police who raided the guesthouse at St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem. After interrogation, he was taken before magistrates who ordered him confined to house arrest for seven days and banned him from contacting people connected to the investigation against him.
While he has acknowledged violating his release arrangement, which barred him from meeting foreigners or discussing his work as a technician at the Dimona nuclear plant, Vanunu says he had no classified information to reveal.
Vanunu was convicted in 1988 for divulging information and pictures of the Dimona reactor to the London Sunday Times. His revelations appeared to confirm expert opinion that Israel has the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, including hundreds of warheads. For years Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it has nuclear weapons.
Since his release, he has given interviews to some foreign media and this has irritated the authorities. The IFJ says that the harassment of Vanunu exposes Israel to criticism for its failure to respect the work of journalists and the people’s right to know.
“Any country that sends police onto church property violating respect for spiritual space in pursuit of a man for no greater crime than talking to reporters severely compromises its democratic credentials,” said White. “It is time to end the hounding of Vanunu, to drop the charges against him and to allow him to get on with the rest of his life in peace.”
The IFJ says that as well as lifting restrictions on Vanunu Israel should “face up to the truth about its place in the democratic world.” The protection of whistle-blowers like Vanunu is vital to free expression says the IFJ, which is campaigning for greater protection for journalists’ sources of information.
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries.