Reporters Without Borders protested at the arrest from his hotel room of British journalist Peter Hounam of the Sunday Times, who in 1986, wrote an article on Israeli nuclear secrets, based on revelations by atomic technician Mordechai Vanunu.
The international press freedom organisation demanded an explanation from the Israeli authorities for this surprising arrest, complaining of official silence on the reasons for it and on where the journalist was being held.
“We are perturbed by this arrest which seems to have a direct link with Peter Hounam’s work on Mordechai Vanunu. The Israeli authorities seem prepared to go to any lengths to stifle news on the nuclear issue in Israel. This arrest and the blackout that followed it are serious violations of press freedom. We await your explanations,” it said.
Hounam was arrested on the evening of 26 May 2004 in Jerusalem when plainclothes officers and members of the security services turned up at his hotel room. His arrest was confirmed by a spokesperson for the prime minister but the government and the Jerusalem district court imposed a gagging order on the case.
The 60-year-old journalist had gone to Jerusalem to write an article about the release of Vanunu on 21 April and was preparing a documentary on him for the BBC.
Vanunu was sentenced in 1986 to 18 years in prison for “treason” and “espionage” after the Sunday Times carried his revelations about Israeli nuclear armament. Under the terms of his release he was banned from meeting foreigners without prior authorisation or speaking to the media about his work at the Dimona nuclear reactor.