Israeli Nuke Whistleblower Vanunu Set for Release

Dozens of anti-nuclear campaigners rallied outside Mordechai Vanunu's prison Tuesday, a day ahead of his release, praising the former nuclear technician as a hero for revealing Israel's nuclear secrets 18 years ago.

British actress Susannah York and Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairaed Maguire were among the activists from around the world assembled outside Shikma Prison in the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon.

"Mordechai Vanunu (search) has blown the whistle on Israel's nuclear weapons," York said. "He has been imprisoned and punished so cruelly. He put humanity above the law."

Vanunu, 50, a former nuclear technician, will not be able to travel abroad for at least a year, speak with foreigners or approach Israeli ports or borders. He also will be barred from discussing his work at Israel's Dimona (search) reactor.

"Vanunu must not be subject to arbitrary restrictions and violations of his fundamental rights on the basis of pretexts or suspicions about what he may do the future," Amnesty International (search) said in a statement.

Vanunu was given a map of Israel marking the areas off-limits to him, the Defense Ministry said.

Israel's Prisons Authority announced that Vanunu would be released from Shikma Prison at 11 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) Wednesday.

He will live in a luxury apartment complex in Jaffa, an old seaport and today part of Tel Aviv. Jaffa has both Arab and Jewish residents, and Vanunu's apartment will be near several churches. Vanunu, who was raised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, converted to Christianity in the mid-1980s.

The Andromeda Hill complex has 170 apartments, and tenants include both wealthy foreigners and local residents. Some tenants said they were unhappy about Vanunu moving in.

"I think he did something wrong," 50-year-old Sherilyn Larkin said.

Vanunu might have trouble complying with the restrictions, including the ban on him talking to foreigners, she said.

"This complex is full of diplomats from all over the world, so I don't know how that's going to work out," she said.

In 1986, Vanunu leaked details and pictures of Israel's alleged nuclear weapons program to The Sunday Times of London and was abducted to Israel by the Mossad secret service. He was convicted of espionage and treason in a closed-door trial in Jerusalem. Much of his 18-year sentence was spent in solitary confinement.

As part of its policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel neither confirms nor denies it has nuclear weapons.

Vanunu has told the Shin Bet (search) security service that he has no more secrets to reveal. However, Israeli officials allege that Vanunu still poses a danger.

Vanunu's brother Meir said the family is appealing the government measures in an Israeli court.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Army Radio that Vanunu "was convicted of aiding the enemy and in effect betraying his country and it is Israel's duty as a democratic state to take precautionary steps regarding its security."

Shimon Peres, who in the 1950s and 1960s took the lead in establishing Israel's nuclear program, also defended the restrictions.

"Vanunu violated norms and betrayed his country," Peres, the Israeli opposition leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told Army Radio. "This is justice."

Vanunu has been embraced by the anti-nuclear movement. He repeatedly has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was legally adopted by an American couple who mistakenly thought that would gain him U.S. citizenship.

Activists, including British playwright Harold Pinter and actress Julie Christie, sent messages to coincide with Vanunu's impending release.

"Mordechai Vanunu is the pre-eminent hero and whistleblower of the nuclear era," wrote Daniel Ellsberg, whose disclosure of secret Pentagon documents about the Vietnam war helped crystallize anti-war sentiment in the United States in the early 1970s. "He is the one who consciously risked all he had in life to warn his own country and the world of an existing, ongoing addition to the nuclear dangers of the era."