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Police crime scene tape marks off the Pretoria home of South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, in this February 14, 2013 file photo. Pistorius is due to be released on Friday after serving 10 months of a five-year sentence, in line with South Africa's custodial guidelines for non-dangerous prisoners. /

Andrea Ettwein

Just two days before Oscar Pistorius was scheduled to be freed from prison, South Africa's government has stepped in to suspend the release of the former Olympic hero who shot and killed his girlfriend.

The planned release, just 10 months after Mr. Pistorius was given a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, has sparked a wave of controversy in South Africa, where many people believe he is being treated too lightly.

Mr. Pistorius was scheduled to be released on parole on Friday and placed under "correctional supervision," allowing him to live at the luxury villa of his wealthy uncle in Pretoria. Critics scoffed that it would be "mansion arrest" instead of "house arrest."

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But in an unexpected twist in the story on Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said the parole board's decision to release Mr. Pistorius was "made prematurely" and without "legal basis." It said the decision needs to be reviewed by the board, and his release from prison must be suspended until the review is complete.

In South Africa, where the Pistorius trial was broadcast live on television and generated a huge audience, many people are convinced that Mr. Pistorius intended to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Many were outraged that he would be released from prison after just 10 months.

Under South African law, criminals with sentences of five years or less can be released on parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence. Friday is the day on which Mr. Pistorius would have served exactly one-sixth of his sentence.

But the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said on Wednesday that the parole decision had been made in June, when Mr. Pistorius was still ineligible for release, so it was invalid. It appears to be saying a decision on parole cannot be made until the full 10 months of imprisonment are completed.

The ministry also said it had received a petition from a women's organization opposing the release of Mr. Pistorius during August, which is officially "Women's Month" in South Africa.

The group, the Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa, said earlier this week that it was shocked at the "insensitivity" of the decision to release Mr. Pistorius from prison during Women's Month. It also charged that the early release was an "insult" to the many victims of violence against women.

Mr. Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for firing four gunshots through his bathroom door and killing Ms. Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day in 2013. In tearful testimony at his trial, he said he heard a noise from the bathroom and thought that it was an intruder, not realizing that it was Ms. Steenkamp.

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The former Olympian, the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied sprinters at the Olympics, was acquitted of murder but convicted of culpable homicide.

Earlier this week, prosecutors filed the written arguments for their appeal against his murder acquittal. They are arguing that the court failed to take into account evidence that Mr. Pistorius must have known he was likely to kill the person behind the bathroom door, whoever it was. They said he could have prevented Ms. Steenkamp's death by firing a warning shot or shooting at the floor, rather than aiming at the middle of the door where his shots were likely to kill the person behind the door.

If the prosecution appeal is successful, Mr. Pistorius would face a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for murder. The case is scheduled to be heard in November by a panel of judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

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