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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Vanunu - the fight for freedom
Peter Hounam with Mary and Nick Eoloff
Peter Hounam (left) protesting with Mr Vanunu's adoptive parents
The dramatic release of nuclear whistle blower Mordechai Vanunu from an Israeli prison was the culmination of 18 years of protests by supporters, many of them in Britain where his ordeal began.

Their campaign began soon after his kidnap and imprisonment, with weekly vigils outside Israel's London embassy every Saturday.

The journalist who wrote the Sunday Times article that led to the cloak and dagger capture remains one of Mr Vanunu's supporters.

Peter Hounam met Mr Vanunu in Australia in 1986, and after a 12-day debrief flew the Moroccan-born Israeli back to London.

Mr Hounam told BBC News Online the Sunday Times had been particularly cautious about publishing the former nuclear technician's claims.

"It was a very difficult decision for the editor, Andrew Neil, because two or three years before there had been dreadful problems with the publication of the Hitler Diaries," he said.

The plot to kidnap him began in London... the UK Government should always have been more interested than it has been in protecting rights
Peter Hounam
former Sunday Times journalist

"No-one wanted to publish a story which might be false."

Mr Vanunu revealed details of Israel's secret weapons programme, gleaned during nine years working at the Dimona facility in the country's south, and backed up by two rolls of film he had taken of the plant.

On the basis of the information he gave to the Sunday Times, analysts concluded Israel had scores of nuclear warheads.

Mr Hounam said the paper was aware of the danger Mr Vanunu had placed himself in by going public, and once in the UK he was moved between various hotels and always accompanied by journalists.

Ironically, it was the length of time taken to establish the veracity of Mr Vanunu's claims that Mr Hounam believes was partially responsible for his eventual capture by the Israeli secret service, Mossad.

"After a couple of weeks he wanted to go back to a hotel in central London, and it was then things got a little lax," Mr Hounam told BBC News Online.

If something happens to my brother, the blood and responsibility of that is also on the British Government
Meir Vanunu

He said Mr Vanunu grew frustrated with the amount of time the paper was taking to verify his information, making him somewhat bored and more susceptible to the advances of the female agent, posing as a tourist, who lured him to Rome.

Once in Italy he was abducted and taken to Israel on a yacht. His trial was held in secret.

Mr Hounam said he had followed Mr Vanunu's story ever since.

"Personally, I am vitally interested in the guy because he is a friend, I like him, and I am aghast at his treatment.

"And as a journalist, I wanted to bring to public attention what a travesty of justice had occurred."

Mordechai Vanunu
Israel used a "honey trap" to lure Mordechai Vanunu to Rome
He said Mr Vanunu was a whistle blower, and should never have been convicted of treason and spying.

Mr Hounam condemned the restrictions attached to Mr Vanunu's release as continuing persecution by Israel.

He said the Association for Civil Rights In Israel had filed an appeal against the restrictions in the Israeli courts.

"This guy has no new information to reveal and should be allowed to go freely", he said.

Mr Hounam said he agreed with Mr Vanunu's brother Meir's view the UK Government bore some responsibility for Mr Vanunu's kidnap and imprisonment.

"The plot to kidnap him began in London... the UK Government should always have been more interested than it has been in protecting rights.

"The least they can do is make sure he is safe."

Meir Vanunu
Meir Vanunu has called for Britain to protect his brother, Mordechai

Mr Hounam urged the government to help obtain Mr Vanunu a passport allowing him to leave Israel.

Mr Vanunu's brother, Meir, had earlier accused the British Government of being "quiet" when Mr Vanunu was kidnapped and claimed it "maybe collaborated with the situation of letting him be kidnapped from Britain..."

He said popular sentiment in Israel was against Mr Vanunu and he had appealed to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to give his brother protection.

"The British Government and the American Government say that they are concerned about the abuse of human rights and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Solitary confinement

"And what did they do about my brother? Total silence. If something happens to my brother, the blood and responsibility of that is also on the British Government."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the government had previously expressed its concern over humanitarian issues, including Mr Vanunu's 11-year solitary confinement, to the Israeli government.

Asked whether the government would be offering Mr Vanunu any protection she said the question of protection had not arisen:

"He is an Israeli citizen, and in terms of what happens when he is released is purely for Mordechai Vanunu to decide," the spokeswoman added.

Vanunu: Israel's nuclear telltale
20 Apr 04  |  Middle East
'Proud' Vanunu vows to fight on
21 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Israel confirms Vanunu restraints
20 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Israel's nuclear programme
22 Dec 03  |  Middle East

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