- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

TEL AVIV — Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower who spent more than 17 years in jail, faces new criminal charges for violating a military-imposed gag order prohibiting him from speaking to foreigners.

Mr. Vanunu, who was convicted in a closed-door trial after sharing top-secret information about the nuclear reactor in Dimona with the London Sunday Times, will appear tomorrow in a Jerusalem magistrate court for a preliminary hearing on the indictment. If he is found guilty, he faces another prison term, but a defense lawyer said it is unlikely the court would impose such a severe punishment.

“The black letter of the law does enable the court to impose on him a prison sentence,” said Michael Sfard, Mr. Vanunu’s attorney. “The charges and the indictment play the role of trying to frighten Mordechai rather trying to impose a prison sentence.”

The case comes almost a year after Mr. Vanunu’s release from jail, where he spent 11 years in solitary confinement. Fearing that Mr. Vanunu still possessed nuclear secrets that could injure Israeli security, Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz and Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh imposed a series of unusual restrictions on the former reactor employee.

The limitations forbade Mr. Vanunu to leave the country or communicate with non-Israelis, including via Internet chat sessions. The initial decree said Mr. Vanunu also was instructed to inform authorities whenever he left his city of residence, Jerusalem.

The indictment claims Mr. Vanunu violated the restrictions at least 21 times, mostly during meetings with foreign journalists in which he discussed sensitive information about the history of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

The charge sheet said Mr. Vanunu gave interviews to The Washington Times and other news outlets, including Japan’s Ashai Shimbun newspaper, the British Broadcasting Corp. and New York radio station WBAI.

In the interview with The Washington Times in July, Mr. Vanunu called for the International Atomic Energy Agency to examine Israel’s nuclear program, but did not discuss details of the program.

Israeli Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti declined to comment on the court case, saying the indictment “speaks for itself.”

The restrictions on Mr. Vanunu, which must be renewed every six months, were extended in October and come up for review just a week after the start of the trial. Mr. Sfard said if the restrictions are canceled, the entire trial might be rendered moot.

Since his release, Mr. Vanunu has been arrested and released by Israeli police on at least two occasions. The restrictions have been questioned by legal analysts and in the Israeli press.

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