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S. Africa court clears Oscar Pistorius to travel abroad
AFP
Pretoria, March 28, 2013
First Published: 21:56 IST(28/3/2013)
Last Updated: 21:57 IST(28/3/2013)
South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius appears at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria to secure bail as he appeared on charges of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. AFP

A South African court on Thursday cleared Paralympian sprint star Oscar Pistorius for international travel, easing stringent bail terms that were set after he was charged with murdering his girlfriend.

Pistorius, 26, whose athletics career has been on hold since the Valentine's Day killing of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, had appealed against a raft of bail conditions he said were unfair and unwarranted.

Pretoria High Court Judge Bert Bam said the initial magistrate's decision last month to order Pistorius to hand over his passport was "wrong".

"I find no reason why the appellant should be forbidden to leave the Republic of South Africa if invited to compete in athletics events in other countries," Bam ruled.

Pistorius will however have to submit his itinerary to the prosecution at least one week before travel and hand back his passport within 24 hours of return. The passport will now be kept by his lawyer.

The double amputee known as "Blade Runner" -- who faces trial later this year on a charge of premeditated murder -- was not in court for the appeal, which was opposed by the state.

The judge also ruled that Pistorius could return to his upmarket Pretoria home where Steenkamp was shot dead in the early hours of February 14, and lifted a requirement for him to undergo random mandatory alcohol and drug tests.

Pistorius claims he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her several times through a locked bathroom door with a gun he kept under his bed, but the state argues it was pre-meditated murder.

The defence team said that the bail terms were tantamount to "house arrest" despite the runner having been cleared as a flight risk by the magistrate's court last month.

"Why would this athlete go to a country without extradition and go and hide?" defence lawyer Barry Roux told the court on Thursday.

After being freed on bail of one million rand ($108,000, 84,000 euros) last month, the sprint star was ordered to surrender his passport and was placed under the care of a corrections officer who would visit him anytime of the day.

Judge Bam struck off that condition too saying it infringed on his privacy.

While admitting Pistorius faced "very serious" charges, he was still entitled to fair treatment.

"The law should be applied equally", said Bam, adding that bail conditions should be "fair and reasonable" and not be "some sort of anticipated punishment of the accused."

Pistorius, who in London last year became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics, has cancelled his participation in upcoming competitions, according to his agent Peet Van Zyl.

Pistorius will decide "if he wants to run again", Van Zyl told AFP, adding that he has not resumed training.

Roux said Pistorius wanted to be able to go abroad under controlled circumstances to be able to earn money.

"It is not as if the appellant is travelling for holiday in Mauritius; it's only to gain an income, there's no other reason," Roux said.

The killing of Steenkamp saw several big name sponsors, including sportswear giant Nike and sunglasses maker Oakley, cut ties with the athlete. The Italian town of Gemona where he used to train also froze a five-year sponsorship deal.

"Of course he was emotional, but does that mean because he is emotional you put him on probational supervision?

There's no causal link," Roux told the Pretoria court regarding the drug and alcohol requirements that were lifted Thursday.

Pistorius's next court appearance is scheduled for June 4, but the prosecution said they were not sure trial would start on that date.

The National Prosecution Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku told reporters he believed Pistorius will attend his trial.

"I believe Oscar will abide by the bail conditions as spelt out, and he will make sure he doesn't disturb any witness or interfere with any witness," Simasiku added.

Thursday's hearing came a day after Pistorius's older brother Carl pleaded not guilty to culpable homicide and reckless driving over a 2008 road accident in which a woman motorcyclist was killed.


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