Lilongwe, Malawi – On Monday 28 January 2019, the Malawi High Court will hear the case of a female Human Rights Defender who was arrested and detained by the Police for holding a poster deemed to be offensive whilst attending a march against gender-based violence.
On 14 September 2017, Beatrice Mateyo, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Empowerment of Women and Girls (CEWAG), Malawi, participated in a march against gender-based violence in Malawi. She and other protestors, at some point in the march, held posters written in Chichewa. Roughly translated, the poster entitled “to be born with a vagina is not a sin” intended to send a message against the objectification of women and encourage open discussion about the factors fueling gender-based violence. She was arrested and detained at Lingadzi Police station and 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. The 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.
When: 28 January 2019 at 08h30
Where: Malawi High Court, Lilongwe, before Justice Mkandawire
What: State v Officer-In-Charge Lingadzi Police Station and Anor, Ex Parte Beatrice Mateyo, Civil Case No.869/2017
The applicants are represented by Hilda Soko and Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff of Women Lawyers Association Malawi (WLA) and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).