ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani court declared disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan free on Friday, ending five years of house arrest for the man at the centre of the world's most serious proliferation scandal.
Khan, lionised by many Pakistanis as the father of the country's atomic bomb, confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya in 2004, but was immediately pardoned by the government, although his movements were restricted to effective house arrest.
"It's a matter of joy. The judgment, by the grace of Allah, is good," Khan told reporters outside his Islamabad house soon after news of the High Court ruling broke.
"It is because of this judgment that I am speaking to you," said the 72-year-old scientist, who has been treated for prostate cancer.
Khan's detention had been relaxed over the past year and he had been allowed to meet friends and had travelled to the city of Karachi at least once under tight security.
He had also given a series of interviews to media after a new government came to power last March but was barred from speaking to reporters by a July court ruling.
Khan's lawyer Ali Zafar said the High Court had declared that he was not involved in nuclear proliferation or criminal activity and there was no case against him.
"The court has ordered that he's a free man," Zafar told Reuters.
Pakistan has never let foreign investigators question Khan, saying it had passed on all relevant information about his nuclear proliferation.
The government had for long maintained that Khan was not officially under house arrest but was being held for his own security. It was not immediately clear to what extent security agencies would still restrict his movements.
Pakistan regards the case as closed, but U.S. and international nuclear experts investigating proliferation still want to question him.
Last year, a U.N. nuclear watchdog said Khan's network smuggled nuclear blueprints to Iran, Libya and North Korea and was active in 12 countries.
The U.S. State Department said last month it had imposed sanctions on 13 individuals and three private companies because of their involvement in Khan's network.
Khan said he was proud of what he had done for Pakistan, in making it safe from India, and said he had no need to answer to any foreign government.
"I will always be proud about what I did for Pakistan," he told reporters. "I am obliged to answer only to my government not to any foreigners," he said.
Khan said he was finished with his nuclear work and wanted to devote his time to education. He said he had no plan to travel abroad apart from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, for a Muslim pilgrimage.
Khan would still need security but from now on he had to agree to it, his lawyer, Zafar, said.
"What used to happen was that under the garb of security, Dr Khan was kept under detention," Zafar told Reuters. "What the court has done is say 'yes, he is entitled to state protection but it has to be by mutual consent, it can't be imposed protection'."
(Additional reporting by Aftab Borka)
Pakistani court declares nuclear scientist free | Reuters
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