28 August 2003 Edition

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Vigils for nuclear whistle blower and prisoner of conscience

Mordechai Vanunu is a name not well known by most people. He is a man who has spent nearly 17 years in prison in Israel. Eleven and a half of those years were spent in solitary confinement, all of this for a crime of conscience.

Vanunu was an Israeli citizen who, after serving in the Israeli army, went to work as a technician in the Dimona Nuclear Facility in the Negev Desert in Israel. For a long time, Israel claimed this was a textile factory. It was, in fact, a plant producing plutonium which Israel was using to build a nuclear arsenal.

In 1986, Vanunu brought evidence to a London Sunday Times reporter detailing the operations of the Dimona Facility. From his evidence (including 60 photographs from inside the plant) experts were able to discern that Israel had approximately 200 nuclear weapons of assorted varieties. It is now estimated that Israel has the sixth largest nuclear arsenal in the world (the largest outside of the five declared nations).

Vanunu never got to see his story, as on 30 September 1986 (five days before its publication), he was lured to Rome, drugged and brought back to Israel by Mossad agents. He was tried in secret and sentenced to 18 years in prison for treason.

Vanunu has now spent more than a third of his life in prison and has been denied parole time and time again on the grounds that his knowledge is a threat to Israel.

He is currently due for release on 22 April 2004, though Yehiyel Horev, a powerful figure in the Israeli Ministry of Defence, has stated repeatedly that he intends never to let Vanunu leave Israel.

To mark the 17th anniversary of his kidnap and imprisonment by Israeli authorities, people around the world are organising vigils outside Israeli embassies for 30 September.

Despite his long incarceration, Vanunu has stayed true to his original message and has never wavered in his dedication to nuclear disarmament.

"I have sacrificed my freedom and risked my life in order to expose the danger of nuclear weapons which threatens this whole region." - Mordechai Vanunu

More information on Mordechai Vanunu and the Campaign to free him can be found at: http://www.nonviolence.org/vanunu/

You can sign a petition to free Mordechai Vanunu at: http://www.ipetitions.com/campaigns/freemordechaivanunu/

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