March 29, 2010 / 10:28 AM / 10 years ago

Pakistani court keeps curbs on nuclear scientist

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani court on Monday rejected a petition by disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan challenging restrictions on his movements, a government lawyer said.

Pakistan nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan waves to journalists from the front door of his house in Islamabad August 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

The father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Khan was at the center of the world’s biggest nuclear proliferation scandal in 2004 when he confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Last year, the government relaxed restrictions on the nuclear scientist after five years of house arrest following revelations about his role in the nuclear smuggling. He was still barred him from talking to the media and required to travel with security guards.

“The court maintained the original order (on restrictions on Khan’s movement),” said Attorney General Anwar Masoor. Khan had filed a petition challenging the government’s stand that the restrictions had been placed for his own safety.

Khan was earlier also required to give 24 hours’ notice to authorities before leaving his home.

In a small concession, the Lahore High Court Monday reduced the reporting requirement to 30 minutes but kept the restrictions on talking to the media about nuclear proliferation or the Pakistani weapons program.

Khan’s lawyer, Ali Zafar, said his client would be a “free man” as long as he informed the government about his movement.

In a related ruling, the court rejected a government petition filed earlier this month seeking to open an investigation on charges that Khan tried to sell nuclear secrets and equipment to Iraq and Iran in the 1990s.

“The judge said it’s up the government,” said Soofi Amar Bilal, another government lawyer “If they want to do it, it’s an executive decision.”

The petition by the Pakistan government for court permission to investigate Khan came days before strategic talks between the United States and Pakistan last week, where Islamabad asked for a civilian nuclear deal similar to the one between India and Washington.

Islamabad has faced calls in the past to fully crack down on the nuclear smuggling network. Pakistani authorities deny any connection to Khan’s smuggling ring but have never let foreign investigators question him.

There is widespread belief in Pakistan that Khan was the scapegoat for an international conspiracy against the country’s nuclear program.

Pakistan, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted several nuclear tests in 1998 but is thought to have had the capability to produce bombs from as early as 1986.

Additional reporting and writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani

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