Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Liberian Minister Faces Contempt Charges For Releasing Rodney Sieh

Rodney Sieh, Editor, FrontPage Africa (Pic. gstatic.com)


Although Rodney Sieh, editor of Liberia’s FrontPage Africa was released for a 30-day period on “compassionate grounds,” his case continues to draw controversy, the latest being the country’s Supreme Court charging the minister of justice / attorney general with contempt of court for releasing him.


Sieh was incarcerated on August 21, when he refused to pay damages amounting to US $1.6 million imposed by a Liberian court in a defamation suit filed by the former agriculture minister Chris Toe. [See details of his case here and here.] However, with mounting public indignation and a bout of malaria for which he was hospitalised for 22 days, the government decided to release Sieh on October 8 although with travel and other restrictions.

Sieh’s 30-day release on compassionate grounds was met with criticism by media freedom monitors.  “Sieh’s temporary release is totally unsatisfactory. This half-measure allows the Liberian government to save face with respect to all the pressure it has been under for several months from Liberian and international human rights NGOs, but it does not address the underlying problem, the illegitimacy of Sieh’s detention in the first place, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

“This case underlines the importance of completing the decriminalization of defamation by setting a ceiling on damage awards. Sieh was jailed for being unable to pay the excessive damages ordered in this case. Such a disproportionate amount helps to intimidate the media and obstruct freedom of information,” RSF continued.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) echoed RSF’s concerns.

The matter took a new turn when on October 11, Liberia’s Supreme Court issued summons on Justice Minister Christina Tah “to show cause ‘if any, why she should not be held in contempt for releasing Mr. Rodney D. Sieh, Publisher of the Frontpage Africa Newspaper in disregard of the court’s order,’” reported Monrovia-based New Dawn.

The New Dawn said that following a request from Sien’s counsel, Tah replied in a letter on October 7, “I … refer to your letter dated September 27, 2013, requesting for compassionate leave for your client, Mr. Rodney Sieh … in keeping with Chapter 34, Section 34.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law, 1LCLR. Based upon your request and that of Atty. J. Fonati Koffa, we hereby grant the request for compassionate leave for a period of thirty (30) days effective October 8, 2013.”

Tah was expected to appear before the Supreme Court today (October 16).

Meanwhile, the Liberian Government said in a press release today, that the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) stating that good governance had improved in the country since 2000. While Liberia has scored high in one criterion used to measure good governance by IIAG, its overall performance is below both the African and regional (West African) averages. Human rights and media freedom organisations have repeatedly written to Liberia’s president and Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to repeal the country’s defamation laws stifling the freedom of expression.   

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