Oscar Pistorius early release put on hold
South Africa’s justice ministry has suspended the release of athlete Oscar Pistorius from prison on Friday.
He said the decision to free the athlete after serving 10 months of his five-year sentence “was taken prematurely” and with “no legal basis”.
The decision has now been sent back to the parole board for review.
Pistorius was convicted of manslaughter last year for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, whom he says he mistook for an intruder.
It is not clear whether the decision on his early release could be reinstated before Friday, should the parole board meet to review its decision.
One of Pistorius’ relatives, who did not want to be named, told Reuters news agency they were “shocked and disappointed” at the news.
Under South African law, Pistorius is eligible for release under “correctional supervision”, having served a sixth of his sentence.
However, it is the timing of the decision which the justice ministry criticised:
“One sixth of a five year sentence is 10 months and at the time the decision was made Mr Pistorius had served only over six months of his sentence,” it said in a statement.
The justice ministry clarified that it only has the power to overturn decisions made by the parole review board in cases where the convict is serving a life sentence.
Pistorius was jailed for five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp, a charge equivalent to manslaughter.
Thursday would have been Ms Steenkamp’s 32nd birthday. Her parents held a small ceremony for her close friends and supporters in her hometown of Port Elizabeth, throwing roses into the sea in her memory.
The intervention by Justice Minister Michael Masutha follows a petition from the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa, which described the athlete’s early release as “outrageous” and “an insult” to victims of abuse.
Ms Steenkamp’s parents have said that the time Pistorius has served is “not enough for taking a life”.
This week, prosecutors in South Africa filed papers calling for the athlete’s conviction to be reviewed and converted to murder, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years. His defence team now has a month to file its response.
After his release from prison, Pistorius would serve the rest of his term under house arrest.
During sentencing, Judge Thokozile Masipa said the state had failed to prove Pistorius’ intent to kill when he fired.
The double amputee shot and killed Ms Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door at his Pretoria home, believing she was an intruder, he told his trial.
Pistorius was born without the fibulas in both of his legs, and had surgery to amputate both below the knee while still a baby.
He went on to become one of South Africa’s best-known sports stars, and was the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes, at the 2012 London Olympics.