CAPE TOWN, South Africa >> The head of South Africa’s Department of Justice could "intervene" to prevent Oscar Pistorius’ early release from prison, the department said on Wednesday, just two days before the Olympic athlete is expected to leave jail and move to house arrest.
The department said in a statement sent to The Associated Press that Justice Minister Michael Masutha is checking to see if the decision by a parole board in June to approve Pistorius for correctional supervision, a form of house arrest, was correct and "in compliance with the law."
"He (Masutha) is seeking legal opinion (on) whether he is empowered by law to intervene if necessary," the department said.
It said the minister would announce a decision before Friday, the day Pistorius was scheduled to leave the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in central Pretoria.
Pistorius has served 10 months of a five-year sentence for manslaughter for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. The double-amputee runner was approved by a parole board to serve the remainder under house arrest.
The parole board approved Pistorius because of his good behavior in prison, the Department of Corrections said when announcing its decision two months ago.
Pistorius, 28, was eligible for release under South African law, which allows offenders given a prison sentence of five years or less to move to correctional supervision after they have served one-sixth of their sentence. In Pistorius’ case, that’s 10 months.
His early release was criticized sharply by the family of Steenkamp, and also opposed by a women’s group that sent a petition to minister Masutha on Monday.
In their petition, the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa said the decision of the parole board was "outrageous" and "an insult" to victims of abuse. The group especially criticized Pistorius’ release during August, which is women’s month in South Africa and a time when issues including domestic violence against women are highlighted.
Masutha, who oversees the justice and correctional services departments, was "considering" the petition, the justice department said.
Pistorius was acquitted of murder for shooting Steenkamp and convicted instead of culpable homicide, which is an unintentional but still unlawful killing comparable to manslaughter.
He faces a Supreme Court appeal in November, when prosecutors will ask a panel of judges to overturn the initial trial verdict and convict Pistorius of murder. Murder carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in jail in South Africa, which doesn’t have the death penalty.