ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani court on Friday ordered the government to lift any remaining restrictions on a scientist alleged to have spread nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, his lawyer said.
The interim instruction came in response to a petition filed by scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and could stir alarm in the United States, which still regards him as a proliferation risk.
Khan's lawyer, Ali Zafar, said the Lahore High Court observed that "nobody can restrict the movement of A.Q. Khan given a court ruling earlier this year that declared him a 'free citizen.'"
He said notices had been issued to the police and government asking them to explain at the next hearing why they were continuing to do so.
"It is excellent and heart-warming and very gratifying," Khan told reporters gathered at his house. "I think the people who have been involved in playing mischief with me will get the message and allow me to live a peaceful, private life as a citizen."
It was unclear whether authorities would obey the instruction.
Judges adjourned the case until Sept. 4 when police and government officials would explain their position, said Usman Anwar, the additional secretary of the provincial interior ministry.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Friday that the United States had seen press reports on the court decision but was waiting for "clarification" from Pakistani officials before commenting further.
"We need to find out exactly from the government of Pakistan what this means, in terms of his ability to travel," Kelly said.
Khan was detained in December 2003 and admitted on television in early 2004 sole responsibility for operating a network that spread nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He has since repeatedly retracted that statement.
He was pardoned by then President Pervez Musharraf, but immediately placed under de facto house arrest.
In February, the Islamabad High Court announced he was a "free citizen," subject to a confidential accord struck with the government.
Since then, he has had to tell authorities of his travel plans, get permission for guests to visit him at home, and intelligence agents and security officials have maintained a heavy presence outside his house, prompting him to launch a fresh petition.
The government says the restrictions are necessary for his own safety.
While reviled in the West, Khan is regarded as hero by many in Pakistan because he led the country's efforts to produce a nuclear weapon.
The Lahore High Court is hearing the case because the Islamabad court has been disbanded over an unrelated dispute.