Oscar Pistorius Bail Decision Condemned

The release of double amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius has been condemned for sending the wrong message in South Africa, a country where violence against women is seen as a national crisis.

The Olympian and Paralympian, who has admitted shooting dead his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, was granted bail of 1m rand (£73,000) on Friday after a magistrate ruled that he does not pose a flight risk.

The African National Congress women's league (ANCWL) said it respected the bail ruling, but criticised the conduct of detective Hilton Botha, "who seemed unprofessional and unprepared during his cross-examination".

Spokeswoman Troy Martens added: "Some men in court… jumped up and celebrated the granting of bail as if they had won a trophy, forgetting that an innocent woman has lost her life. This is not the message men of this country, especially men with a degree of influence, should be sending to our youth. "

Professor Rachel Jewkes, director of gender and health research unit at the South African Medical Research Council, said: "This sends exactly the opposite message to what we want. It shows that the courts do not take gender violence seriously, especially in a situation as extreme as this. It's a symptom of a problem we have in South Africa."

She added. "It's very hard not to think Pistorius is being given special treatment because he's a celebrity. Bail seems to be extremely low for people with means."

Gender violence is rife in South Africa, where 56,272 rapes were recorded last year. Surveys have found between a quarter and a third of men admit committing rape. In court on Friday prosecutor Gerrie Nel made reference to president Jacob Zuma's recent state of the nation speech calling for the prevention of violence against women and children to be made a priority.

Steenkamp's family have not been in court this week, but on Friday there was an appearance by her friend Kim Myers and Myers's mother, Desi, both of whom were close to the model. "This is a bail application, it's not a trial, and we hope and pray that justice will prevail," Kim Myers said. "It's still a very sad time for us and we need to remember that somebody did lose their life, and our hearts, thoughts and prayers just go out to the Steenkamp family. We're still very sad. She was an amazing person."

The Pistorius family, who formed a circle and prayed in the courtroom, also paid tribute to Steenkamp. Pistorius's uncle Arnold told reporters: "We are relieved of the fact that Oscar got bail today. But at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva with her family.

"As the family, we know Oscar's version of what happened that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case."

Lawyers in the court blew on their perspiring hands as the magistrate read the arguments. Barry Roux, Pistorius's defence advocate, smiled: "Do I have a headache? Of course I was tense." He added: "I think it is a fair decision to grant bail. It was a bit hairy but it will be fine."

Speaking outside court, Medupe Simasiku, from South Africa's national prosecuting authority, told reporters: "The bail application does not mean that this person is acquitted." He said there was more work to be done and, when the court meets again on 4 June, they will have a better idea of when a trial can be held.

It is not uncommon for individuals facing murder charges to be released on bail in South Africa. The alternative can be years of awaiting trial in an overcrowded and dangerous prison system.

Antony Altbeker, author of Fruit of a Poisoned Tree, about a miscarriage of justice, said: "Society should err on the side of giving bail to the accused. The denial of bail should be limited to exceptional cases like a flight risk." He rejected the view that the magistrate should have considered the wider political consequences in South Africa. "Treating a bail hearing as an instrument for sending messages is problematic. Bail is about procedural fairness, not wider questions than that."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Smith in Pretoria, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 22nd February 2013 19.34 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © David Jones