14 October 2013

Liberia: Publisher's Release Backfires As Justice Minister Summoned

Justice Ministry's compassionate reprieve granted the detained published of the FrontPage Africa newspaper Rodney Sieh has backfired with the Supreme Court citing the Minister on contempt charges to explain the circumstances of her action. In a "Writ of Summons for Contempt" reportedly issued against the Justice Minister, she is expected to appear before the full bench on October 16, 2013 at the hour of 9:00 am for releasing Mr. Sieh "in disregards of the court's order."

Mr. Rodney Sieh's release last week was made at the request of his lawyers after the editor spent 40 days for his inability to pay US$1.5million libel damages to former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry argued that Mr. Sieh's case - which stemmed from the publication of a report from the General Auditing Commission accusing the then agriculture minister of squandering millions of dollars intended to fight invading arm worms in Bong County and several other parts of Liberia - was not criminal but civil in nature, giving the government the right to grant the detained publisher's lawyers' request for his temporary reprieve under the law. Mr Sieh's release was greeted with jubilation among fellow journalists who met at the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia making solidarity statements and brandishing placards resisting the 30-day compassionate reprieve granted Mr Sieh. "Rodney Sieh is out of jail forever," declared radio program host T-Max Jlateh amidst thunderous applause from fellow journalists. Describing as a "gross mistake" the notion that Sieh would be returned to jail after the elapse of 30 days, Jlateh pointed out "Rodney Sieh is going home, and going home and free at last. My people, we don't make the news, they make the news and we report it. You don't blame the messenger, but the man who sends the message by the messenger,"

PUL President Peter Quaqua took the podium to acknowledge the proclamation, saying "You cannot release this man for 30 days and then take him back to jail. That place (Monrovia Central Prison) is not for holiday makers." PUL members described the libel law under which Mr Sieh was jail as draconian and must be reformed. "We cannot have the laws of 1964 and 1973 used to punish journalists of today. This is something that we have to check. "Our objective is to ensure that those laws that are very repugnant to the ideals of press freedom and freedom in our country are removed from our books. We are not fighting for evil, but for the good of our state," said Quaqua. The publisher's temporary release came when his health deteriorated and was twice rushed to hospital after going on a hunger strike. The latest dramatic development leaves many unanswered questions - whether the former agriculture boss, the man behind the libel case instructed his lawyers to pursue the matter of the journalist's release with the Supreme Court or whether the court itself chose to cite the Justice Minister because she apparently did not make reference to the Court while releasing the journalist. But legal experts are dismissing the latter because, they say, the Court being a neutral arbitration forum does not raise an issue of such magnitude by itself. Meantime, one of Mr Sieh's lawyers, Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, told this paper that Cllr. Benyah Howard, one of the lawyers will be at the Supreme Court on Wednesday along with the Justice Minister when she appears to respond to the summons. Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

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