Anger at jail term for mum

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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A breast-feeding mother was jailed for the weekend after refusing to give evidence against her partner.

Southland resident Jasmine Matika, 20, was originally given six weeks' imprisonment for contempt of court by Judge Michael Turner after she chose to remain silent because of her "Christian beliefs" during Aaron Tawaroa's trial.

On appeal to the High Court, Justice Graham Panckhurst cut the sentence short but not before Matika had spent three days away from her six-week-old daughter.

After a domestic dispute on August 25, Tawaroa was charged with male assaults female and intentional damage.

Matika was two months' pregnant when she discovered text messages on Tawaroa's cellphone and questioned him about them, according to the police.

It was alleged he responded by tackling her on to the bed, pinning her down and punching her in the head.

Police said that as Matika attempted to leave in her car, Tawaroa assaulted her again. However, he was acquitted on both charges.

When the young mother was called as the first witness in the trial at Invercargill District Court last month, proceedings ground to a halt. "Your honour, I have had nine months to consider the matter and by reason of [my] Christian beliefs [I will] remain mute and not answer any questions," Matika said.

Judge Turner reminded her of her "civil and legal obligation" to answer the questions and told her she could face a prison for contempt of court. Despite being the complainant in the matter, Matika's continued silence saw her thrown in the cells for the afternoon and before the end of the day the judge gave her a chance to rethink her stance.

She apologised for her actions but said she would continue to avoid answering questions. Judge Turner sentenced her on the spot to six weeks' imprisonment and she spent the weekend in custody at Invercargill District Court because the closest women's prison was in Christchurch.

When the trial resumed the following week, Matika eventually gave evidence consistent with her witness statement.

At the appeal, Justice Panckhurst waived the balance of her sentence and said though it was a clear example of "wilful disobedience", she was respectful of the judge and polite throughout.

Merepeka Ruakawa-Tait, former head of Women's Refuge, slammed the decision to jail Matika.

"It must be frustrating for a judge, hearing day after day, cases of domestic violence and knowing little will change unless battered women have the courage to speak up," she said.

"I think sentencing her to six weeks in prison was manifestly unfair.

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"He could have explained how she would be helping other battered women, by using her Christian beliefs, and telling the truth about what happened.

"I'm pleased that sentence was overturned.

"Even separating the mother from her baby for a few days was wrong. This was a double punishment. Punishing the baby and the mother."

- Sunday Star Times

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