February 06, 2009
Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets, was today freed from five years of house arrest by a court and immediately declared that he can now "lead a normal life".
Khan, lionised as the "father" of Pakistan's atomic bomb, confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He was immediately pardoned but detained in his home.
In an interview with the Guardian after this morning's court ruling, the metallurgist said he had no plans to travel abroad or engage in domestic politics. Looking relaxed and well, the 72-year-old strolled in the front garden of his plush villa in Islamabad, playing with a pet dog and receiving well-wishers.
"It's a nice feeling, the worry is gone. I can lead a normal life now, as a normal citizen. It's a fine feeling," he later said by telephone.
Khan was detained in early 2004 after making a televised confession to nuclear proliferation, following intense international pressure on Pakistan. His nuclear trading network had been discovered by western intelligence agents.
A national hero in Pakistan for spearheading the country's nuclear weapons programme, Khan subsequently retracted his confession.
He said that, aside from having to maintain guards around him, he had been freed with the "blessing" of the government, which had been "very helpful".
Khan has been fighting a long-running court case against his detention, saying he had not been convicted of any crime. Under the previous regime, led by the then army chief, Pervez Musharraf, he had little chance of successfully challenging his arrest, but the civilian government has been flagging its wish to see him freed.
Khan's lawyer said the high court had declared him a free citizen. "The court has said as he was not involved in nuclear proliferation or criminal activity, there is no case against him, therefore he is a free citizen," Ali Zafar said.
Last year a United Nations nuclear watchdog said Khan's network smuggled nuclear blueprints to Iran, Libya and North Korea and was active in 12 countries. Last month the US state department imposed sanctions on 13 individuals – two of them British – and three private companies because of their involvement in Khan's network.
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