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Pakistan says nuke scientist Khan is free citizen

A Pakistan court declared disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan a "free citizen" Friday after years of de facto house arrest because of his alleged role in leaking atomic weapons technology.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Pakistan court declared disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan a "free citizen" on Friday after years of de facto house arrest because of his alleged role in leaking atomic weapons technology to countries including Iran, North Korea and Libya.

A smiling Khan emerged from his house and addressed reporters face-to-face for the first time since 2004 but indicated he would not be talking about Pakistan's secretive nuclear program and about who else was involved in leaking its secrets around the world.

"We don't want to talk about the past things," he said as the guards who have enforced his long isolation stood aside for a throng of TV crews and journalists.

Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, took sole responsibility in 2004 for leaking the nuclear secrets but was immediately pardoned by former President Pervez Musharraf and placed under de facto house arrest.

The 72-year-old, who has suffered a string of illnesses, began agitating for an end to the restrictions after last year's ouster of Musharraf. Over the past year, he had been allowed to occasionally meet friends outside his house.

In response to an appeal by his lawyers, the Islamabad High Court declared Khan "a free citizen" on Friday. The court said other details of the order were confidential.

Government prosecutor Amjad Iqbal Qureshi said the court order was the result of a compromise and that "security measures" for Khan would remain, suggesting that authorities may still limit his movement. The government has never said that Khan was under house arrest, maintaining he was being he was being held for his own security.

Khan hailed the order as a "good judgment."

"At least I have got my freedom. I can move around," he said.

In telephone interviews with media last year, he complained he had been made a scapegoat and said the army had known all about at least one incident of proliferation — a claim swiftly denied by Musharraf.

Pariah in the West, hero at home
A pariah in the West, Khan is lionized by conservatives and Islamist hard-liners for making Pakistan the world's only Muslim nuclear power and is a hero to many ordinary citizens.

Pakistan's government has long regarded the nuclear proliferation issue and Khan's alleged involvement a closed case.

Asked Friday what the international community would think of his release, Khan struck a typically defiant tone.

"Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leader? Never," he said. "I don't care about rest of the world. I care about my country. (President Barack) Obama cares about America, not about Pakistan or India or Afghanistan."

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