Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Liberia: Jailed Liberian Journalist Granted 30-Day Prison Release

The publisher and managing editor of the Liberian-based newspaper and online magazine FrontPage Africa has been granted a 30-day temporary release from prison by the Attorney General.

Rodney Sieh was jailed on August 21st after he failed to pay a US $1.6 million libel judgment to former Agriculture Minister J. Chris Toe.

Former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods, who is one of Sieh's lawyers, said the release is consistent with Liberian law.

"This is what is referred to as compassionate leave. It is provided for under Section 34.20 of our criminal procedure law under which the Attorney General, who is the Minister of Justice, could exercise an authority to grant leave to a prisoner for certain reasons," he said.

Woods said the lawyers requested the temporary release due to Sieh's health condition.

"We did indicate that there has been persistent illness of Rodney Sieh, and also we have been engaged in a particular dialogue and substantial progress has been made. And, therefore, it would be a good thing to allow Rodney out while we continue this process," Woods said.

Sieh was admitted to the John F. Kennedy Hospital late August suffering from an undisclosed illness.

Woods said the Attorney General granted the temporary release under one condition - that Sieh will remain in Liberia and to request permission from the assistant Minister of Justice for Rehabilitation, under whose office the prison is being supervised.

He could not say whether the Justice Ministry consulted Toe's lawyers before granted Sieh the temporary release. But, Woods said discussions are ongoing.

Sieh has ruled out offering any apology to Mr. Toe. Last month, his lawyers filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of his imprisonment under Section 44.71 of the Liberian Civil Procedure Law and calling for his immediate release.

The lawyers argue that Sieh's imprisonment violated various provisions of the constitution, including the prohibition against debt bondage in Article 12, the Equal Protection Clause of Article 11, the due process clause of Article 20, and the directive against excessive punishment in Article 21.

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