9 October 2013

Liberia: Finally Free? How Fpa Editor Got the Compassionate Release

Monrovia — The Ministry of Justice on Monday night issued a letter granting compassionate release to FrontPageAfrica Managing Editor Rodney D. Sieh.

In the letter, signed by Justice Minister Christiana Tah, the compassionate release was precipitated upon requests by Sieh's legal team expression concern about the state of his health while at the same time arguing the legal progress that have been made on the case with the filing of a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the imprisonment.

"I present my compliments and refer to your letter dated September 27, 2013, requesting for compassionate leave of your client, Mr. Rodney Sieh, Editor in Chief of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper, in keeping with chapter 34 section 34.20 of the criminal procedure law, 1LCLR," states Minister Tah in the letter.

"I have reviewed the documents that we requested in our letter of September 30, 2013, which were not received until October 3, 2013, hence the delay in our response."

Sieh is released for one month and is not allowed to leave the city limits according to the terms of his temporary freedom letter.

"Based upon your request and that of Atty. J. Fonati Koffa, we hereby grant the request for compassionate leave for a period of thirty (30) days effective October 8, 2013," states the letter releasing Sieh.

"During this period, your client is advised to not leave the city of Monrovia without first seeking the permission of the Assistant Minister for the Bureau of Correction and rehabilitation."

Lawyers representing the legal interest of the journalist who spent more than a month in prison wrote the Minister requesting the leave for their client. Sieh's release has been described as a great development across the country by journalists and sympathizers alike.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a release issued last night says it welcomes Monday's decision by the Ministry of Justice to grant Sieh who has been jailed since August for not paying libel damages-"compassionate release" for 30 days.

"We are relieved that Rodney Sieh has been released on compassionate grounds and call upon the authorities to ensure that he is not sent back to prison after 30 days," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.

"Liberia's libel laws should be reformed so that no journalist is incarcerated and no newspaper shut down in connection with publishing news."

Sieh, who is also the managing editor of FrontPageAfrica, is undergoing treatment from malaria contracted in prison, according to his defense lawyer. Sieh was jailed because he did not pay damages of US$1.5 million in connection with a libel conviction against him.

The journalist's health had deteriorated in prison. It remains unclear what will happen to Sieh after the 30 days granted him by the government by Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua says he believes that Sieh is a free man.

Journalists are expected to welcome the journalist back into normal life on Thursday, the day on which he expected would be discharged from the hospital. There will also be a ceremony of celebration at the PUL headquarters on Clay Street following a march from the Hospital escorting Sieh to town.

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