Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, has been released on medical parole a little over two months after he was ordered imprisoned on contempt charges, triggering violent protests that devolved into deadly clashes and looting.
The government’s department of correctional services said in a statement on Sunday that Mr. Zuma’s parole had been “impelled by a medical report,” but it provided no details about the nature of his illness. Mr. Zuma was admitted to a hospital to undergo the first of several medical procedures last month, the department said then.
Mr. Zuma will serve the remainder of his 15-month sentence under supervision in the community corrections system, the department said, adding that he would be subjected to “supervision until his sentence expires.” But it gave no details about where exactly he would serve his parole.
His release comes after his staggering downfall as a once-celebrated freedom fighter who fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and was a powerful figure in the governing African National Congress.
Mr. Zuma, 79, was forced to step down in 2018 after being rejected by the A.N.C., threatened by a no-confidence vote in Parliament and abandoned by millions of voters. He was taken into custody on July 7 after South Africa’s highest judicial body found him guilty of contempt for refusing to appear before a commission investigating sweeping corruption allegations during his nine years as president.
John Steenhuisen, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s opposition party, said in a statement on Sunday that Mr. Zuma’s medical parole was “entirely unlawful” and made a “mockery” of the country’s correctional law.
“Jacob Zuma publicly refused to be examined by an independent medical professional, let alone a medical advisory board,” Mr. Steenhuisen said, adding that such an assessment was required under law in order for a prisoner to be granted medical parole.
Under South Africa’s correctional law, those eligible to be released for medical reasons include terminally ill inmates serving 24 months or less, those who are physically incapacitated and inmates suffering from an illness that severely limits their daily activity or capacity to care for themselves. The risk of reoffending must also be low.
“We appeal to all South Africans to afford Mr. Zuma dignity as he continues to receive medical treatment,” the correctional department said.
A foundation named after Mr. Zuma, which posted on Twitter that it welcomed the decision, said that he was still in the hospital.
But the One South Africa Movement, which focuses on policy solutions to South Africa’s development challenges, said in a statement on Twitter that the government’s decision had been questionable and lacked transparency.
When Mr. Zuma was detained in July, supporters denounced the arrest, arguing that he had been treated unfairly and that sentencing him to prison without a trial was unconstitutional. Some called for a shutdown of his home province, KwaZulu-Natal.
Protests led to several deaths, tens of millions of dollars in damage and the disruption of the nation’s coronavirus vaccination program.
President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed the military to curb the civil unrest, describing it as some of the worst in the country’s history.