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Latest twist in Liberian publisher's libel conviction saga

Ken Harper/SI Newhouse School of Public Communications

Frontpage Africa's publisher and managing editor, Mr. Rodney Sieh, has been put under house arrest and his passport seized on the orders of the Justice Ministry.

It is a dramatic twist in the libel conviction saga. Sieh's house arrest comes after Justice Minister Cllr. Christina Tah was summoned by the Supreme Court to defend why she cannot be held in contempt for granting compassionate release to Rodney Sieh.

In a communication addressed to Cllr. Beyan Howard – one of the lawyers representing Sieh – and signed by Deputy Justice Minister for Economic Affairs Benedict F. Sannoh, the government says that the grant of compassionate release is now before the Supreme Court. As a result, the communication notes, it has become necessary to impose additional conditions on the leave until final determination of the matter.

The initial terms and conditions expressed in Sieh's temporary freedom letter stated that Sieh was not allowed to leave the city limits.

But after the Supreme Court summoned the justice minister, the new order states  “Please be informed accordingly, that effective immediately and upon the directive of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Hon. Christiana Tah, your client, Mr. Rodney Sieh, is to remain confined to his house until the expiration of the period granted for the compassionate leave…”

In addition, Sieh's home has been put under surveillance, his passport has been seized and every vehicle leaving Sieh's premises will be searched thoroughly.

The new Supreme Court order reads: “To ensure that the aforesaid additional conditionality is observed, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has been directed to keep 24-hour surveillance on Mr. Sieh's house and its immediate perimeter.  Any attempt by Mr. Sieh to leave his house without prior approval as herein provided, shall be considered a violation of the conditions of his leave.”

CEMESP's Executive Director Malcolm Joseph is quoted as saying “What is more troubling is that both Justice Minister Tah who is also the Dean of the Supreme Court and Cllr. Beyan Howard have been threatened with debarment if the two of them – [who] applied and sanctioned the compassionate release – fail to apologize to the Supreme Court”.

Joseph noted that it had been precisely four days after the Justice Ministry granted Sieh his compassionate release when the Supreme Court summoned Cllr. Tah and questioned why she should not be held in contempt.

Cllr. Tah argued that she acted in conformity with the law and that Sieh's compassionate release was granted in keeping with chapter 34 section 34.20 of the criminal procedure law, 1LCLR. She also argued that compassionate release is guaranteed under the law for civil convicts.

Sieh's release was granted after his lawyers wrote the Justice Ministry, requesting that they grant their client compassionate release, as provided by law.

On Monday, October 7, 2013 Mr. Sieh was given “compassionate release” for thirty days by the Ministry of Justice.

Rodney Sieh and his newspaper were found guilty by a lower court of libeling former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe. The court ruled that the paper failed to substantiate its claims that the minister diverted millions of dollars intended to fight an epidemic in two regions of Liberia. The offending stories are said to have been derived from an audited report, which was later discredited by the government during the trial.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower court after Mr. Sieh refused to perfect his appeal on the basis that he does not trust the Supreme Court.

CEMESP is monitoring the development with interest in the hope that the Supreme Court acts within the confines of the law and protects all of Sieh's human rights.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Editor placed under house arrest for the remainder of parole

    “The house arrest order contradicts the parole that Sieh was granted on health grounds,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Sieh is like a ball being batted to and fro in a power struggle between different Liberian officials. This constitutes cruel treatment and we call for the immediate withdrawal of this measure, which restricts his freedom of movement and his access to health care.”

Case history

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