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Israeli Technician Who Leaked Nuclear Secrets Gets 18 Years

March 28, 1988 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Mordechai Vanunu, the former nuclear technician who said he acted as a spy for the common man when he gave Israeli atomic secrets to a newspaper, was sentenced Sunday to 18 years in prison. He was convicted of treason and espionage.

The sentencing climaxed a seven-month closed-door trial that focused worldwide attention on Israel’s nuclear capability.

The 34-year-old Israeli, who told a British newspaper his country possessed nuclear weapons, was convicted Thursday.

The charges can carry a death penalty. But the prosecution requested a life term, which Israeli law limits to 20 years. The court then reduced the term by two years, citing Vanunu’s cooperation with investigators, apparent signs of regret and the difficult conditions of his 18-month solitary confinement.

Under Israeli law, Vanunu could be released on good behavior after 12 years. But legal commentators said his early release was unlikely given the severity of the crimes.

Defense attorney Avigdor Feldman has said he will appeal his client’s case to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The sentencing ended an affair shrouded in secrecy that began when Vanunu, a 10-year employee of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, gave photographs and details of the facility to The Sunday Times of London.

Based on that information, the paper reported Israel had stockpiled the world’s sixth largest nuclear arsenal.

Israel has never confirmed or denied that it has nuclear weapons. It has said only it will not be the first country to introduce such weapons into the Middle East.

Vanunu, a Jewish-born convert to Christianity, testified during his trial that he made his revelations to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons, not for personal gain or out of a desire to harm his country.

In a poem quoted by his attorney on Israeli television after the verdict, Vanunu called himself a ″spy for the common man.″

He had negotiated a lucrative contract with The Sunday Times pending publication of a never-completed book and earlier approached several news organizations offering to sell his story for large sums.

Vanunu made a final appeal at Sunday’s court session, but his remarks were not made public and his attorney refused to talk to waiting reporters.

Vanunu’s family, however, expressed bitterness.

″The trial was not conducted as it should have been,″ said Vanunu’s brother, Asher Vanunu. He said he would try to galvanize international support to press authorities for his brother’s release.

Meir Vanunu, another brother who lives in London, said in an interview with British Broadcasting Co. television, ″Israel wasn’t able to give justice to Mordechai.″

He said Israel was trying to shield its nuclear capability ″in all the kinds of games that they played about it for the last 25 years.″

Meir Vanunu faces arrest in Israel for leaking details of his brother’s journey to Israel from London in October 1986, several days after The Sunday Times published Vanunu’s revelations.

He told journalists his brother was lured from London to Rome by an American woman named Cindy, presumably an Israeli agent, who promised him sex. Then he was abducted by Israeli agents and spirited back to Israel for trial, he said.

Meir Vanunu, 32, read a statement Sunday night to The Associated Press.

″This trial began by kidnapping, continued in total secrecy and ended by putting the narrow interests of the state before the interests of humanity,″ the statement said.

″Legally, it is only the end of a chapter; our struggle to free him continues. Politically, by this trial, Israel has admitted that it has the bomb. It was my brother’s wish to make the Middle East nuclear free. It is up to the rest of the world to pick up this challenge.″

In response to a question, Meir Vanunu said he had asked the Italian and British governments to intervene. ″It’s the responsiblity of the British and Italian governments to take some diplomatic steps, or any kind of action, to clear up this situation and demand the return of Mordechai to Europe, where he was taken from,″ he said.

Before a pre-trial court appearance, Mordechai Vanunu managed to flash reporters a message scribbled on the palm of his hand saying he had been kidnapped in Rome. The incident embarrassed authorities and led to increased security precautions.

Vanunu has received almost no support from Israelis, many of whom view him as a traitor.

But his cause has been adopted by international groups including anti- nuclear activists, scientists, politicians and the London-based Amnesty International human rights group. British peace activists and legislators nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize last summer.

During Sunday’s sentencing hearing, defense attorney Feldman presented a petition from noted American scientists, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates, asking for leniency, Israel radio said.

The judges, however, denied a defense request to allow an American expert on international law to testify at the hearing.

The expert, Richard Falk of Princeton University in New Jersey, said he was shocked the court refused to let him testify and criticized Vanunu’s conviction.

″Individual conscience is more important in the nuclear age than the security of the state,″ he said. ″The state can be wrong.″