CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s parole review board has up to four months to conclude its decision on when Oscar Pistorius can be released from prison, a Justice Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
Paralympic gold medalist Pistorius, 28, was due to be released into house arrest on Friday after serving 10 months of a five-year sentence for killing his girlfriend, model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha, however, on Wednesday blocked his proposed release because he said the decision was made without legal basis, an intervention the Pistorius family said left them “shocked and disappointed”.
Masutha said the parole board had wrongly taken a decision to release Pistorius on parole before the athlete had served a sixth of his sentence, as required by law.
“The review board has four months in which to conclude the matter,” Justice Ministry spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told Reuters.
“The minister cannot determine how they deal with the review as he merely referred the matter and leaves it to them to deal with it independently.”
A Pistorius family spokeswoman denied reports that the athlete’s family was planning to challenge the justice ministry’s intervention in court.
“No decisions have been taken, and the family will take their time to calmly consider the way forward,” Anneliese Burgess said in a statement.
Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of the carbon-fiber prosthetics he used during his career on the track, admitted killing Steenkamp by firing four shots through the locked door of a toilet cubicle, saying he believed an intruder was hiding behind it.
Judge Thokozile Masipa said during sentencing the state had failed to convince her of Pistorius’ intent to kill when he fired.
Prosecutors filed an appeal this week asking for the verdict of culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, changed to murder because they argue Pistorius must have known when he fired that the person behind the door could be killed.
If convicted of murder, Pistorius will likely be given a custodial sentence of at least 15 years. The appeal hearing is due to start in November.
Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, was expected on release to be mostly confined to the home of his uncle, Arnold, a high-walled mansion in the leafy Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof.
Pistorius was once considered one of the ultimate symbols of triumph over adversity, fighting authorities to become the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Toby Chopra