Prison Term Ends for Nuclear Tattletale

Published April 23, 2004, issue of April 23, 2004.
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Mordechai Vanunu, the convicted nuclear spy, slammed the State of Israel and its law enforcement agencies immediately upon his release Wednesday morning from jail, but said he had no intention of harming the country.

Vanunu, 49, walked out of Ashkelon’s Shikma prison a free man around 11 a.m. Israeli time, as his 18-year prison term for aggravated espionage came to an end.

Speaking over the cries of reporters, supporters and opponents, Vanunu made a statement in the prison courtyard, flanked by two of his brothers, saying that he had been subjected to cruel and barbaric treatment during his incarceration.

He added that he had no further secrets to divulge, alleging that he had been made to suffer for 18 years because he had converted to Christianity.

“To all those who are calling me traitor, I am saying I am proud, I am proud and happy to do what I did,” he said. “I am now ready to start my life.”

“I didn’t say that there was no need for a Jewish state,” he added. “I said Mordechai Vanunu doesn’t need the Jewish state.”

Vanunu was convicted of treason and espionage on March 24, 1988, for providing the Sunday Times of London with classified information about Israel’s nuclear secrets. He was seized by Israeli officials in Rome on September 30, 1986 — five days before the Sunday Times published the story — after being lured there from London by a Mossad agent named “Cindy.” Vanunu was tried in secret by a three-judge court, and sentenced to 18 years, the first 11 of which were served in solitary confinement.

Vanunu has said he hopes to settle in the United States and study history.

During his press conference Wednesday, Vanunu spoke solely in English, refusing to respond to any questions in Hebrew. He called for international inspections of the Dimona nuclear reactor complex.

Vanunu said the Mossad spy agency and the Shin Bet security services tried to rob him of his sanity by keeping him in solitary confinement for nearly 12 years. “I said to the [Shin Bet], the Mossad, you didn’t succeed to break me, you didn’t succeed to make me crazy.”

Asked if he was a hero, he said “all those who are standing behind me, supporting me … all are heroes.”

“I am a symbol of the will of freedom,” he said. “You cannot break the human spirit.”

Vanunu alleged that the woman known as “Cindy” was not a Mossad agent, but someone working for the FBI or CIA.

A brief drama developed about an hour before Vanunu’s slated release when media reported that the release was in danger of being postponed after he refused to give the prison a permanent address for the next six months. Vanunu later informed the prison that his permanent address would be an Anglican Church in Jerusalem.

Dressed in a simple white-checked shirt, black tie and slacks, and carrying a solitary bag, Vanunu flashed victory signs as he walked out of the prison to be greeted by hundreds of supporters. After finishing his statement, he was driven away in a convoy of police cars, with proponents yelling encouragement on one side of the vehicle, and opponents screaming and making rude gestures on the other.

His first stop upon release was the St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, where he was mobbed by supporters and the media. “I am going to the church to give thanks to my friends and to God,” he said as he left Ashkelon.

The Israeli defense establishment has declared Vanunu to be a security risk, and officials have signed orders forbidding him to leave the country for a year and requiring him to obtain official clearance before speaking to foreign nationals or traveling far from his place of residence. Vanunu, however, told one of his attorneys on Wednesday that he would not recognize any of the restrictions placed upon him.

Along with Israel, the United States will be following Vanunu’s words and actions after his release. Gideon Frank, the director general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, met here yesterday with John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and the pair discussed Vanunu’s release. The working premise of the discussion was allegedly that Vanunu will be trying to cause problems for Israel.

FREE: Mordechai Vanunu waves to his supporters April 21 after being released from prison (top). He later embraces Peter Hounam, the journalist who investigated his claims about Israel’s nuclear reactor (middle), and goes to pray at an Anglican church in Jerusalem (bottom).

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