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Pakistani court delays hearing in nuclear scientist's case

by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) Sept 3, 2009
A Pakistani court has delayed until September 15 its hearing of nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's plea for alleged security restrictions to be lifted, court officials said Thursday.

Khan had claimed in court last week that security arrangements imposed after his five-year period of house arrest was lifted in February amounted to restrictions on his movement.

The court then ordered the government to respond to Khan's claim on Friday, but on Wednesday postponed this until September 15, state attorney Aamir Rehman told AFP by telephone.

The two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court also reaffirmed on Wednesday that Khan was a free man but that he should travel under police escort for his "personal safety," Rehman said.

Khan, reputed as the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, admitted in 2004 that he leaked nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

In February an Islamabad court declared Khan a free man, five years after he was effectively put under house arrest for operating a proliferation network.

That ruling was result of a compromise between the government and Khan's lawyers, under which he had to inform authorities of his movements in advance.

However, last week Khan complained to a Lahore high court judge that his movements were still being restricted, Rehman said.

But in an application Wednesday the government told the court that it had no intention to violate the arrangement agreed to in February, Rehman said.

"We admit AQ Khan is a free man but his security is important for the government. He has held sensitive position in the past. For his personal safety we want that he should move under proper security," he said.

Rehman said the court had issued an order Wednesday, giving the government until September 15 to respond to Khan's claim.

"Khan would be willing to accept the offer of security but not restrictions on his movements in the garb of security," his lawyer Ali Zafar told AFP.

"The situation will be clear at the next hearing," he said, referring to September 15.

A US official said Tuesday that Khan "remains a serious proliferation risk."

"We have made clear to the Pakistani government our concerns about AQ Khan," a State Department official told AFP on condition of anonymity when asked to comment on the news the scientist had gained freedom of movement.

Earlier in February also the United States had expressed concern that Khan's release could lead to renewed nuclear proliferation. To allay fears, Pakistan said he had no access to atomic facilities.

Khan in a televised statement in 2004 confessed to sending nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he later retracted his remarks.

Then president Pervez Musharraf pardoned the scientist, revered at home as a national hero, but he was kept at his residence, guarded by troops and intelligence agents.

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