By Peter Kanjere:
The High Court in Lilongwe is today expected to hear a case involving human rights activist Beatrice Mateyo, who was arrested for hoisting a placard deemed offensive during a gender-based march in the capital on September 14 2017.
Justice Charles Mkandawire will preside over the case between the State and Mateyo, Executive Director for the Coalition for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, who is being represented by Hilda Soko and Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff of Women Lawyers Association Malawi (WLA) and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).
Soko last Wednesday confirmed that the court would hear testimonies from Mateyo and her colleagues over the manner in which she was arrested.
“The court will also determine whether carrying a placard is not in accordance with right to freedom of expression. The court will also be asked to determine whether the offence of insulting the modesty of a woman is constitutional or not,” Soko said.
Mateyo was arrested on September 14 2017 during the march after she and other protestors, at some point, held posters written in vernacular.
She claimed that her placard was meant to encourage open discussion about factors that fuel gender-based violence.
Police arrested Mateyo and detained her at Lingadzi Police Station where she was charged with the offence of “insulting the modesty of a woman” in terms of Section 137(3) of the Penal Code.
She was subsequently released on police bail but the case has not been prosecuted since. She filed an application for judicial review of her arrest and detention, as well as challenging the constitutionality of the offence.
It is argued that the offence of “insulting the modesty of a woman” is archaic and vague, resulting in its arbitrary application in this case against a woman human rights defender.
It is further urgued that offence was never intended to curb freedom of expression, and the need for its existence has subsequently been surpassed by the passing of the Gender Equality Act, which criminalises sexual harassment in a gender-neutral manner.