29 August 2013

Liberia: Imprisoned Journalist Sieh's Health Deteriorates - Employees Issues Stern Warning to Liberian Government

The detained Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper is spending the second night at the emergency ward of the John F. Kennedy Hospital after fainting in his cell at the Monrovia Central Prison where he had held behind bars since a week ago.

Managing Editor, Sieh, was taken to the JFK Medical Center in Monrovia under heavy gun escort early Wednesday morning. Mr. Sieh was rushed to the hospital by prison guards and some officers of the United Nations Mission in Liberia UNMIL at midnight on Wednesday as his health deteriorated. The jailed journalist was said to have been vomiting in his cell according to credible sources at inside the prison compound.

A member of the FrontPageAfrica team who rushed to the scene of the hospital after getting news that Sieh had been taken there by the prison authorities said the prison authorities revealed that the FPA Managing Editor complained of fever and was shivering as a result of cold while in prison.

The Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper has spent seven nights in jail following his incarceration by the civil law court of the Temple of Justice on Thursday, August 22, 2013.

Several family members, friends and employees of FrontpageAfrica including the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) President Peter Quaqua who had gone to visit Sieh later on Wednesday were all turned away by the Police head on duty with a strict restriction that anyone wishing to visit the editor should first seek permission from the Justice Ministry after 5:p.m when all government offices are closed.

One of the relatives who was fortunate to talk to Managing Editor Sieh while on his hospital bed said that the exact cause of Sieh's illness is yet to be made known by the hospital administration headed by Wannie Scott-McDonald who was seen administering activities at the emergency ward where he is being admitted.

However, the female relatives had revealed that in a brief chat with the Sieh he complained of weakness in his entire body and have already taken up to four drips and still experiencing weakness in the body.

One week in prison

Detained FrontPageAfrica Managing Editor was ordered detained on orders of Civil Law Court Judge Boimah Kontoe Wednesday, August 21, 2013 during his second court appearance at the ground of the Temple of Justice.

Attempts to take the FPA boss out of the court yard to jail by police officers was marked by protest by several civil society organizations protesting that the detention of Managing Editor Sieh was another sad day for press freedom in the country that has a long history of fighting press freedom.

The placard carrying protesters lined up from the court yard on the ground of the Temple of Justice on the Capitol Hill up to the Monrovia Central Prison where he was detained chanting slogan one of which read: 'Long live our hero Rodney Sieh'

Detained based on his work

The sudden arrest and detention of Sieh on orders of the Supreme Court stemmed from a news story in which the paper wrote in 2010 from the General Auditing Commission report accusing former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe of his alleged failure to account for million of dollar offered him by the government to fight army worms that invaded two counties which left behind series health hazards for residents of the two regions of Bong and Lofa Counties.

Following the story former Agriculture Minister Toe filed a lawsuit of US$2m to the Civil law Court for damages terming the story as untrue and a clever attempt by the paper to tarnish his reputation built over the years.

Despite all of its evidence provided to the court during the trial by FrontPageAfrica a panel of jury in its verdict adjudged the paper liable for not proving its case and asked the paper to pay to former Agriculture Minister Toe the amount of US$1.5 Million.

Frontpageafrica excerpted to the ruling and announced an appeal to the Supreme Court where the high court dismissed the appeal on grounds that the paper did not follow the rule of appeal.

Associate Justice Philips Banks' opinion added that under the law for appeal to the Supreme Court, an appellant should follow the 60 days period required for appeal; but the paper failed to follow same thereby leaving the high court with no alternative but to dismiss the appeal filed by FrontPageAfrica and uphold the ruling of the lower court.

The bank's opinion also mandated the lower Civil Law court to enforce its order by ensuring that the paper pays to former Agriculture Minister Toe the amount of US$1.5m or the Managing Editor be arrested and detained and the asset of the paper seize to be sold to amount to the full sum of US$1.5m.

Prisoner of conscience

Meanwhile, the FrontPageAfrica employees have issued a press statement calling on the government of Liberia to stop further manipulation of the case.

The FrontPageAfrica team would like to formally announce that Mr. Rodney Sieh, Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper currently imprisoned at the Monrovia Central Prison was admitted to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital at about 12:45 a.m. this morning.

We are deeply concern about this latest development concerning our Managing Editor and would like to caution the Government to address this situation with utmost care and caution.

"The FrontPage Africa acknowledges the pronouncement of the Liberian Government indicating that it is not a party of interest to the current case at bar but expresses concern about attempts in some official quarters to politicize this case," stated the employees of FrontPageAfrica during a news conference on Wednesday.

"This is a purely legal matter and must remain as such. We therefore caution the government to take a measurable distance, as any attempt to continue on this path will be counterproductive."

The release stated that Mr. Sieh continues to maintain respect for the rule of law and will exhaust all legal avenues for redress and that he has not appointed and/or conferred authority upon any person or persons to discuss, negotiate and obligate him in any manner and form.

All sole authority is conferred upon his legal counsel. Mr. Sieh remains a prisoner of conscience and will continue to respect the laws of our land," stated the release.

"As a result of this recent development and other previous experiences, our legal team will be writing the Ministry of Justice requesting an official incident and medical report on the circumstances leading to the admission of Mr. Sieh to the JFK Memorial Hospital."

GOL responsible for whatever happens to Sieh

Meanwhile the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that it is alarmed by Wednesday's hospitalization of the leading Liberian independent journalist who has been on hunger strike since his imprisonment on August 21.

"We are troubled that Rodney Sieh's health has deteriorated during his imprisonment and we hold the government of Liberia responsible for his well-being," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.

"The excessive libel damages imposed on Sieh for reporting the findings of a government inquiry on corruption, his jailing, and the closure of an important independent newspaper is a blow to press freedom and the fight against corruption in Liberia."

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