Mordechai Vanunu, the former nuclear technician who sold secrets about Israel’s atomic arms capability to a British newspaper, was brought in a closed police vehicle to the High Court of Justice on Wednesday for the start of his appeal against the conviction.
Vanunu, 36, is serving an 18-year sentence for espionage and treason in time of war. In October 1986, based on Vanunu’s disclosures, the Sunday Times of London published detailed information, including plans and photos, saying that Israel was manufacturing nuclear weapons at a subterranean factory underneath a civilian nuclear power plant in the Negev desert.
Just before the article appeared, Vanunu himself disappeared from London. He turned up two months later in an Israeli jail where, as an as yet unknown prisoner, he dramatically showed a message written on his palm saying he was Mordechai Vanunu and had been hijacked Sept. 30 from Rome, after arriving there the day before from London.
As it turned out, he was lured to Rome by a beautiful blonde Israeli agent and seized there by Mossad agents, who took him back to Israel.
Vanunu is appealing both his conviction and the 18-year sentence. The appeal, like the original trial at the Jerusalem District Court, is being held behind closed doors.
As the High Court was about to being hearing the appeal, a group of Italian scientists in Rome renewed their calls for clemency in the case and said they and Vanunu supporters in other countries were trying to send independent observers to the trial.
HUNDREDS OF SIGNATURES
“It is important that the Vanunu case not be forgotten,” physicist Franco Dupre told a news conference Tuesday evening. “It’s not just the case of one man, but of every researcher involved in military research who feels that, for the good of humanity, he must stop what he is doing and tell the world about it.”
He said the Paris-based International Association of Democratic Jurists had sent three lawyers to Israel to attempt to gain access to the courtroom as observers.
Scientists in Italy and other countries have gathered hundreds of signatures on appeal petitions in support of Vanunu. Signers include a number of Nobel Prize winners and other noted scientists.
They have protested the harsh conditions Vanunu is alleged to be enduring in prison.
Dupre said that Vanunu had been kept in an isolation cell with its lights illuminated around the clock, making sleep difficult. Only because of international pressure had prison authorities agreed to turn off the lights for eight hours a day, he claimed.
“Vanunu’s courageous and conscientious decision to make public what he knew about the Israeli nuclear weapons program focused our attention on another most dangerous element in the nuclear equation: that of proliferation of nuclear weaponry to an ever-widening circle of competing states,” said one recent petition.
The petition also said the charges against Vanunu were “exaggerated and disproportionate”; that his sentence was unduly severe; that the trial should not have been “conducted in total secrecy”; and that Vanunu’s abduction was illegal.
“The circumstances in which Vanunu was illegally removed from Italy and kidnapped by the Israeli authorities cry out for impartial judgment,” the petition said.
(JTA correspondent Ruth E. Gruber in Rome contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.