The High Court has granted permission to apply for judicial review to gender activist Beatrice Mateyu to determine the legality of her arrest by the police.
Mateyu was arrested on September 14 2017 following a sensational placard which was part of the demonstration against gender-based violence and was charged with insulting the modesty of a woman contrary to Section 137 (3) of the Penal Code.
The section in question reads: “Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture or exhibits any object intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture of object shall be seen, such woman or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be guilty of misdemeanor and shall be liable for imprisonment for one year”.
In her application to the court, Mateyu has sued both the police and the Attorney General for her arrest, describing it as unconstitutional and a violation of human rights. The application indicates that Section 137 (3), which is the offence she has been charged with is unconstitutional for being overly broad and vague.
“I do not understand how holding a placard to protest against gender-based violence would be interpreted as insulting the modesty of a woman,” argues Mateyu in her sworn statement to the court in support of application for judicial review.
The applicant in her submission wants a declaration that the decision of the police to arrest her was arbitrary and unreasonable, an order quashing the decision to arrest her, and a declaration that Section 137 (3) of the Penal Code is unconstitutional or in the alternative it be clarified by the court.
After analysing issues raised in the application, the High Court granted her permission to commence judicial review on the matter.
Commenting on the development, Women Lawyers Association (Malawi) president Sarai–ChisalaTempelhoff, whose organisation is representing Mateyu in the case, said the grant for permission is good news as the judicial review is expected to answer the raised issues.
“Such vague laws have been used to victimise people in the case of rogue and vagabond so we want the court to make a determination on this one at the same time we are seeking for damages because our client was wrongly put in custody. But we are happy that we have been granted this permission,” she said.
Mateyu’s placard ignited hot public debate as evidenced by so many social media posts, with some in defence of he action as plain truth while others considered it morally insensitive.