Pistorius' early release on hold pending review
SOUTH Africa has put the release of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius on hold, saying a decision to free him today after serving only 10 months in prison for killing his girlfriend was made without the right legal basis.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha said in a surprise statement on Wednesday that the June decision to allow Pistorius to serve the remainder of his five-year sentence under house arrest had "no legal basis" and was suspended pending a parole board review.
The 28-year-old athlete was convicted in October of culpable homicide - a charge equivalent to manslaughter - over the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013, but prosecutors have appealed, seeking a murder conviction instead.
Wednesday's announcement came on the day Ms Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, would have celebrated her 32nd birthday.
"It is apparent...that the decision to release him on Aug 21 was made prematurely on June 5, when the offender was not eligible to be considered at all," Mr Masutha said in a statement.
"The earlier decision of the CSPB (the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board) to place the offender under correctional supervision is suspended until the Parole Review Board has decided on the matter," the statement said.
Pistorius will have served a sixth of his five-year sentence by today, making him eligible for early release under South African law.
But the justice minister said the early release decision should not have been taken before he had actually served that 10-month period.
The minister suggested to local radio 702 that the parole board may have "misinterpreted the law and been in haste in taking a decision prematurely". It was not immediately clear when the review board would meet and justice ministry officials remained tight-lipped on the matter.
"It will depend on how and when the review board is going to hear the matter," ministry spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told Enca news channel, refusing to speculate about the possible date of the athlete's release.
The minister also said he had received a petition from the Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa opposing Pistorius' release on parole and claiming it flouted the rules.
Pistorius' family said they were mulling over their options. "We accept the decision made by the minister of justice, and are considering our options," Pistorius family spokesman Anneliese Burgess told Agence France-Presse.
A family member said relatives had planned a "low-key welcome" for Pistorius today. "We are shocked and disappointed that Oscar won't be home (today)," the family member, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS