ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A court on Monday barred the disgraced architect of Pakistan's atomic weapons program from speaking about nuclear proliferation, less than three weeks after he implicated the army in the sharing of nuclear technology with North Korea.
Abdul Qadeer Khan has been largely confined to his home in the capital since taking sole responsibility in 2004 for leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
However, he recently began agitating for an end to his confinement, disowning his 2004 confession in media interviews and saying the army had known all about at least one act of proliferation in 2000. President Pervez Musharraf issued a swift denial.
The Islamabad High Court, ruling Monday on a petition filed by Khan's lawyer, said the retired scientist must be allowed to meet close friends and relatives subject to security clearance — something the government says he can already do.
Presiding Judge Sardar Mohammed Aslam also said that Khan "will not convey, transmit, relay any comment or give interview to any channel, news reporter, print or electronic media, in any manner whatsoever in respect of issue of proliferation."
Aslam, in a written order, also banned Khan from discussing proliferation with family or friends.
It was unclear whether Khan would appeal the decision, which was made after government lawyers asked the judge to silence him to avoid international sanctions on Pakistan.
His lawyer, Javed Iqbal Jaffri, said the ruling established that Khan was a "detainee" and that Khan could file more complaints to win his freedom.
Officials insist Khan is not formally under house arrest, but that restrictions are needed for his own safety and to prevent others from tapping his knowledge of state secrets.
A government lawyer appeared pleased with the ruling and suggested it could blunt growing calls for Khan's release.
"The court has certainly given tangible relief to Dr. Qadeer, and that is reflecting the aspiration of the people of Pakistan," Ahmer Bilal Sufi said.
Khan's 2004 confession spared Pakistan from even greater international condemnation over the leaking of nuclear technology to three countries which, at the time, were all at loggerheads with the West.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and only resigned as army chief last year, quickly pardoned Khan.
The United States, which was counting on Musharraf as a key ally in its war on terror, has praised Pakistan's subsequent effort to investigate the international nuclear smuggling ring in which Khan played a key role.
The new government, like its predecessor, insists the chapter is closed and that it will not probe Khan any further or allow foreign investigators to question him.
But experts say it remains unclear whether other countries obtained sensitive technology from the Khan network. They also doubt that senior Pakistani officials were unaware of the trafficking.
Khan, a hero to many Pakistanis for making their country a nuclear power, alarmed authorities when he began giving telephone interviews to journalists after Musharraf's political allies were eclipsed in February parliamentary elections.
Khan said he only agreed to the televised confession after officials promised he would be quickly freed.
He also claimed he had done nothing illegal or "unauthorized" and that his long confinement was affecting his health. Khan, 72, underwent surgery for prostate cancer last year.
Early this month, he said Musharraf as the army chief had knowledge in 2000 that a shipment of used centrifuges — equipment used to enrich uranium so it can be used as fuel or in nuclear bombs — was being sent from Pakistan to North Korea.
"It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment," Khan said in a July 4 interview with The Associated Press. "It must have gone with his (Musharraf's) consent."
Khan sent a handwritten note to the court claiming that he had been misquoted in various articles.
But government lawyers argued that Khan's comments threatened to trigger international sanctions on Pakistan, and asked the judge to stop him from talking to the media in the interests of national security.