JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African judge has ordered the correctional services ministry to decide within 30 days whether to grant parole to the former head of a covert police unit that tortured and killed dozens of people during white rule.
Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled Wednesday in the case of Eugene de Kock, who confessed to murder and other crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. He has been in jail since 1994, when apartheid ended.
The case is highly sensitive for the South African government. It seeks to promote the ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness embodied by the late anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, but must also address the enduring anger of people who lost family members during white rule.
De Kock, has said he is the only member of the former police force serving time for crimes committed on behalf of South Africa's old order and he maintains he acted on instructions from leaders who were never punished.
His lawyer, Julian Knight, said de Kock is legally entitled to parole and has alleged that the government has violated his client's rights by delaying a decision on the latest parole request. Previous requests for parole were turned down.
Masipa's order instructs the minister of correctional services to "take a decision authorizing, alternately refusing, the placement of the Applicant on parole."
The order refers to a recommendation made by a government panel that advises the correctional services minister on parole decisions for offenders serving life terms. But it does not provide details on the recommendation.
The department of correctional services is considering the matter and will act in line with the judge's order, said spokesman Manelisi Wolela. He declined to comment further.
Judge Masipa is also overseeing the murder trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius, who is being assessed at a psychiatric hospital. The trial resumes June 30.