Nuclear secret-leaker Vanunu arrested for giving TV interview

Vanunu gave an interview to Channel 2 on Friday, his first with a Hebrew-language Israeli media outlet since the start of his ordeal.

Vanunu gets married (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vanunu gets married
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mordechai Vanunu, the former nuclear technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona who served an 18-year prison sentence for revealing information about Israel’s clandestine atomic program in 1986, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly violating the terms of his release during an interview last week with Channel 2 news.
Later Thursday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court released Vanunu to house arrest for seven days with a complete blackout order against speaking to the press, while the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police investigate whether he illegally discussed aspects of the atomic program in his conversations with Channel 2.
Despite the court order, Vanunu emerged from the hearing and told the awaiting press that he charged State Attorney Shai Nitzan with “abusing him.”
Also on Thursday, Channel 2 filed a motion with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court seeking to cancel the court’s earlier order for Channel 2 to hand over all of its material related to the interview, including footage which was not aired.
Vanunu’s interview with Channel 2 last Friday was his first interview with a Hebrew-language Israeli media outlet since his arrest in 1986.
Following his release from prison, Vanunu has been subject to strict limitations on his freedom of movement, as well as his ability to speak to the press, including a prohibition against discussion of the nuclear program, even regarding details that have already been published.
Jerusalem police said they arrested Vanunu on Thursday morning and he was questioned under caution by detectives from the central unit special investigations team for about two hours before he was taken to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
The arrest and investigation were ordered by the Shin Bet, who is also responsible for monitoring the conditions of his parole, a police official said.
The official surmised that though the interview was cleared by the military censor it could be that the Shin Bet believes there was more information in the unaired footage.
The Jerusalem Post learned that when Channel 2 sent its originally proposed footage to the military censor there was a standard negotiating process over what would be aired. Elements of the proposed broadcast were dropped based on the censor’s position on the issues.
The original court order against Channel 2 was issued without Channel 2 having any legal representation present.
The Post understands that Channel 2 would view being forced to provide its materials to the police after having shared material with the censor, as an abuse of the censor process and as trying to turn the media into an arm of the authorities.
This would also be seen as the undermining of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the press’ trust in the censor and of their willingness to cooperate with the censor as such actions may scare away people from speaking to the media.
In the portion of the interview which aired on television, Vanunu talked about his motivations for revealing the information and his struggles and anger with Israeli authorities, but he did not discuss the substance of the information itself.
On the air, Vanunu told Channel 2 that his decision to photograph sensitive nuclear facilities at Dimona and reveal information that Israel had kept secret until that point was motivated by his desire to “inform the citizens of the Middle East, the world, and the State of Israel.”
The former technician said that he had gradually adopted left-wing views during his employment at Dimona, and that he was horrified at “the danger” of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
Vanunu was jailed as a traitor in 1986 and served an 18-year sentence after discussing his work as a technician at the Dimona nuclear reactor facility with Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, an interview that led experts to conclude that the facility had produced fissile material for as many as 200 atomic warheads.
After his release from jail in 2004, Israeli defense authorities barred Vanunu from traveling abroad or speaking with foreigners, alleging he has more details on the Dimona atomic reactor to divulge.
The restrictions, upheld by the Supreme Court, have been condemned by international human rights groups and others who say his information is now outdated, already publicized and that the current situation is an attempt to punish him even after he completed his prison sentence.
Vanunu denies that he poses a security risk, but says he will pursue anti-nuclear activities and wants to live abroad.
Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this story.