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Vanunu hit by further ban on leaving Israel

• State tells peace activist he remains a security risk
• Anti-nuclear arms group lobbies London embassy

The Guardian
Duncan Campbell
Friday April 21, 2006

The nuclear whistleblower and peace activist Mordechai Vanunu has been told that the ban stopping him leaving Israel has been extended for another year and that he is still viewed by the authorities "as a security risk to the state".

Mr Vanunu said yesterday that he was disappointed by the decision, which he learned about from a letter sent to him from Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister designate, on the eve of the second anniversary of his release from jail.

A former technician at Israel's nuclear weapons facility, Mr Vanunu was released from an 18-year prison term two years ago today. Twenty years ago he had revealed details of Israel's secret weapons programme to the Sunday Times. Lured to Italy by an Israeli agent he was then kidnapped and returned to Israel. He spent the first 11 years of his sentence in solitary confinement.

" I had expected that the new prime minister would rethink it," he said yesterday from Jerusalem, "but it seems nothing changes. I am in good spirits but I am very disappointed." He said he felt that European governments could do more to persuade Israel to allow him to leave since he had been illegally removed from European territory.

The official government position is that Mr Vanunu still holds information that affects the country's security.

Gidon Spiro, a member of the Israeli campaign that supports him and opposes nuclear weapons in the Middle East, said: "No serious person believes he is a security risk. It is a cynical excuse because security is a sacred cow in Israel. The real reason is that they cannot accept the fact that he came out of prison sane and committed to the same ideals after 18 years. It is pure vendetta."

He added that the campaign for Mr Vanunu would continue. "We are disappointed that European governments have not done more, because that is where he was kidnapped," Mr Spiro said.

Supporters of Mr Vanunu in the UK, who have been cycling on the Vanunu Freedom Ride, from the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland, will deliver a letter today to the Israeli embassy in London and to 10 Downing Street.

The poet Benjamin Zephaniah, a supporter of the campaign, said: "Mordechai now represents the struggle for peace, the struggle against nuclear weapons, for a free Palestine, for free speech, and even for the freedom to be free once you have been freed." Mr Vanunu has urged Palestinians to use only non-violent methods of protest.

For the past two years Mr Vanunu has lived at St George's Cathedral in east Jerusalem. He said yesterday he was hoping to rent an apartment in the same area. He spent his days reading, writing and keeping in contact with supporters. "My spirit is strong but I would have liked to have been in London and not here." He still hoped Mr Olmert might represent a change in policy.

Mr Vanunu faces charges in connection with talking to foreign media. He is due to appear in court on May 1 when a judge will rule on his lawyer's application to have all the charges dismissed. Other charges, connected to his movements within Israel, have already been dropped.

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