Monrovia — THE LONG UNEXPECTED has happened in the controversial trial and imprisonment of Rodney Sieh, publisher of the Frontpageafrica newspaper.
The editor, who has had a standoff with the Supreme Court over the manner and form his libel suit and his subsequent sentence to prison were handled by the nation's highest court, has finally apologized for placing the court “and the integrity of the judiciary at risk.” He had long contended that the Supreme Court's judgment in the case would not be fair, although it had heard an appeal from a lower court which had convicted him of libel and imposed US$1.5m in fines and damages. He had suspected that the Supreme Court, or some of its justices, were not neutral and therefore cannot be trusted. With Sieh's apology, which of course has triggered another round of debate, new questions arise regarding the fate of the jailed journalist, the integrity of the Supreme Court and the commitment of government to human freedoms and civil liberties—all of which form the recipe of the controversy surrounding the libel saga involving Mr. Sieh and his protagonist, former Agriculture Minister, Chris Toe.
SOME PUNDITS THINK Sieh should not have apologized; that he should have been man enough to stand by his position on the Liberian judiciary system, which he had dubbed “corrupt and inept and unable to dispense impartial justice or judgment” in his libel saga. These pundits believe Sieh was not under a trance when he made his earlier position against the court and the Judiciary, and should have given chance to ferocious national and international pressure for his unconditional release; something they believe was inevitable. By his apology, the pundits say Sieh demonstrates a feigned submission to a process and a system he genuinely does not believe in but had to only because his physical condition—his allergy to prison conditions typical of any true revolutionary—can no longer allow him to stand the dictates of his innate and professional convictions.
THERE ARE OTHERS, however, who say the apology is not entirely misplaced, not only because it gives Sieh and his freedom - conscious allies a breathing space to get him out of prison (and purge his character of the libel conviction), but also because it revives hopes for the logical conclusion of the entire process—a prism upon which the true deportment of the Supreme Court, yea the government of Liberia, will be tested and eventually proven. According to the proponents of this view, there is no need and no use for Sieh's continued imprisonment when there are other unexploited and unused channels in the national judicial architecture. His apology to the Supreme Court, whether intrinsic or feigned, allows for the pursuit of the resolution of the justice process, without which it is impossible not only to test the integrity of the judiciary system, but also makes it unreasonable to condemn the legal fairness or otherwise of the sentence heaped upon him by the lower court.
WE AGREE WITH the latter proposition. Why we understand the euphoria for protests against whatever action or policy of government, no matter from whichever of the three separate but coordinate branches, to crack down on the freedoms and liberties of citizens or anyone, we think the Sieh apology in all its purposes fuels that euphoria rather than kills it. We think it opened more windows of opportunity for and increased the exercise of the right to transparent and conclusive justice in the Sieh libel saga. It has enriched the popular euphoria that occasioned the Chris Toe-Fronpageafrica libel case in that the world is now poised to see where the nation's “final arbiter of justice” stands on - and what it makes of - the claims and counterclaims not only regarding “libel laws” and when it can be won by public official, but also whether the sentence as adjudged by the lower court is consistent with the law and Constitution.
WITHOUT THE APOLOGY—unless the fog of relationship between Sieh and the high court was cleared up in some other way—the nation and watching international community would have been left in the dark, whether Sieh was released to massive public disapproval or if he had perpetually remained in jail at the pleasure of Chris Toe and the lower court.