The Islamabad High Court declared detained nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan a “free citizen” on Friday, but kept secret the ‘agreement’ reached between him and the government.
The court also banned publication of the ‘secret agreement’. Analysts believe the agreement envisages only ‘limited freedom’ to Dr A.Q. Khan.
“The petitioner (Dr A.Q. Khan) is declared a free citizen and writ petition is disposed of in accordance with ‘Annexure-A’, contents of which shall not be issued to the press or made public in any manner as requested by both sides,” said a one-page order released by Chief Justice Sardar Mohammad Aslam after a hearing in his chamber.
According to the judgment, annexure-A (which spells out the terms and conditions of Dr Khan’s liberty), was offered by the government. Dr Khan’s counsel agreed to the terms after initial hesitation.
Dr Khan was put under house arrest in 2004 after he confessed on television to sending nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea and sought the nation’s forgiveness. But later he retracted his remarks and alleged that he had been forced by former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf to make the statement.
The government has been maintaining all along that Dr Qadeer spearheaded an international proliferation network which had supplied centrifuges and other equipment to these countries.
Soon after the judgment, Dr Khan came out of his home in Sector E-7 and briefly talked to journalists. But he said nothing that could suggest his ‘voluntary’ detention was over.
Security in the area was still tight and intelligence personnel in plain clothes were all over the place.
The nuclear scientist appeared to be happy about the decision, but did not disclose the contents of the agreement. He said that now he had ‘absolutely’ nothing to do with the country’s nuclear programme or policy.
“For the rest of my life I will like to concentrate on spreading education (in the country)”.
He refrained from directly criticising Gen (retd) Musharraf, saying: “I want to forget what happened in the past.”
Asked if he intended to sue the former military ruler, Dr Khan said he had no intention to do so. “He (Musharraf) has already paid for his deeds.”
He said he would mostly remain inside his residence and rarely move out of the city, but added that he would travel to Karachi or elsewhere only if there was an urgent need.
He said he was not interested in going abroad, but that he would like to apply for a permission to go to Saudi Arabia for Umra. “I am confident that the government will allow me and my wife to perform Umra.”
Earlier in the day, Dr Khan, represented by Barrister Ali Zafar Syed, had requested the court to remove restrictions on his movement.
Barrister Zafar told reporters the word “free citizen” meant that Dr Khan would be entitled to state protection, but only by mutual consent. “It cannot be an imposed protection.”
Like any other VVIP, the counsel said, Dr Khan needed security arrangements, but did not require permission for travelling inside the country. But he gave hints that Dr Khan would need permission for travel abroad, saying that decision would be made “case by case”.The government was represented at the hearing by Deputy Attorney General Amjad Iqbal Qureshi and the Additional Secretary of the interior ministry, Zafeer Abbasi.
“By the grace of God, the judgment is good and a matter of joy and only because of the judgment I am speaking to you otherwise you would have been stopped behind the barrier,” a beaming but frail Dr Khan told reporters.
On July 21 last year, the Islamabad High Court had barred the scientist from speaking on nuclear proliferation, but allowed him to meet relatives and travel inside the country after security clearance.
The court had spelled out five conditions to determine Dr Khan’s freedom. He could meet his close relatives and friends subject to security clearance and necessary precautions taken for his security. But he was required to share details about his close relatives and friends with security agencies.
Dr Khan was also barred from conveying or transmitting any comments or giving interviews to any channel, news reporter, print or electronic media in any manner on nuclear proliferation.