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Editor detained, reportedly released after apologising to Supreme Court

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia, January 24, 2011 - The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) is calling upon public officials to be mindful that they are responsible to the citizenry and must accept any and all criticisms in good faith.

"Criminalizing criticism of public actions destroys opportunities for the tracking of public actions, permitting the strengthening of impunity, and is an undeserved return to the past."

The statement from CEMESP is in response to the January 22, 2011 detention of the Managing Editor of the "Front Page Africa" newspaper, Rodney Sieh, at Monrovia's maximum "South Beach" prison.

Sieh was to serve a 30-day prison sentence, upon the orders of Liberia's Supreme Court, following the expiration of a 48-hour ultimatum that demanded an apology and applied a fine of US$300.

The Supreme Court claimed "disrespect" after Sieh accused the bench of being dictatorial for refusing to permit him to read a prepared text when he was summoned to clarify a reader's opinion that was published by the newspaper.

The entire episode grew out of Sieh's publication of an item entitled "Biasness, Discrimination and Prejudice in the Angel Tokpah case", submitted by Garsuah Gborvleh. In the item, which was published in "Front Page Africa" on October 25, 2010, Gborvleh accused Associate Justice Gladys Johnson of bias when she "arbitrarily drove family members and friends of the little murdered girl . . . from the court."

According to CEMESP, "the action by the Supreme Court places the application of Article 15 of the Liberian constitution, which permits freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions without interference, in a difficult position."

"It is high time that Liberia sign on to and apply the provisions of the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for states to decriminalize speech offenses," CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph said. "The government and public officials must recognize the power of free speech in the transformation of the Liberian state and work towards enhancing democracy and the sustenance of peace."

In the meantime, Sieh was released. Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua told CEMESP that Sieh was released after midnight on January 24, following an apology he reportedly made to the Supreme Court bench.

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