Police in Lilongwe yesterday released on bail Beatrice Mateyo, arrested during a solidarity walk to eliminate gender-based violence (GBV), for carrying a placard deemed to insult the modesty of women.
The message on the placard, whose picture went viral on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, attracted the attention of the police who arrested Mateyo, prompting human rights defender Billy Mayaya, one of the organisers, to take to the social media to announce the development.
He wrote: “One of the protesters at today’s solidarity march, Beatrice Mateyo, has been arrested for carrying a placard which was deemed insulting!”
Oxfam Malawi country director John Makina, whose organisation was one of the sponsors of the march, sounded concerned and regretted the taste of some of the messages displayed during the march.
He said a task force comprising Mayaya and Salima North West law maker Jesse Kabwila (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), among others, were responsible for development of the content of the placards.
Said Makina: “All the messages were done by the task force and the task force was being led by Mr. Mayaya and Honourable Kabwila. I got the information about what happened later.
“But in terms of whether the messages were part of that [the messages the march organisers intended to give to the public], I wouldn’t know. The role of Oxfam was basically sharing a platform of the concerns that the demonstration this morning sent out. We never, as Oxfam, sat down to develop any message.”
Mayaya could not pick phone calls. He also did not respond to our questionnaire sent to him through WhatsApp.
But Kabwila defended the messages and wondered why there was a fuss.
She said: “Why is the whole march being reduced to this placard? I think media should not dance to patriarchy like this. There were many placards. Why talk about one?”
Mateyo’s arrest drew mixed reactions from the social forum – Facebook and WhatsApp with some faulting her for using vulgar and culturally unacceptable vocabulary (language) during the demo.
Some commentators demanded an apology from the organisers for the explicit language.
Mateyo was held at Lingadzi Police Station where she was recorded a caution statement. Her offence attracts a one-year jail term if found guilty.
A similar march was held in Zomba where a petition was presented to the district commissioner’s office.