16 October 2013

Liberia's High Court Tables Contempt Hearing in Journalist's Lawyer, Justice Minister's Case

The Supreme Court of Liberia has tabled a hearing into contempt charges levied against Cllr. Beyan Howard, lawyer representing the freed Managing editor of the FrontPageAfrica Rodney Sieh and Justice Minister Christian Tah.

Journalist Sieh was ordered detained at the Monrovia Central Prison on August 21, 2013 on orders of the civil law Court when his appeal was dismissed for not following the appeal process and failure to pay to former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe the amount of US$1.5m dollars in damages after losing a libel suit.

The libel law suit against Managing EditorSieh came as the result of a series of publications he wrote in the FrontPageAfrica newspaper and on its website in 2010 and 2011 accusing the former Agriculture Minister Toe quoting the General Auditing Commission (GAC) report of his alleged failure to account for millions of United States dollars offered him to fight army worms that invaded Bong and Lofa Counties.

Toe acknowledges the General Auditing Commission's (GAC) report at a press conference in which the paper used as reliance in the publication of the story but claimed the audit was unprofessionally done; therefore the report was not credible.

After spending 40 days in detention Journalist Sieh was ordered released on October 7, 2013 by the Justice Minister Christian Tah on a compassionate grounds for 30 days based on the journalist's ill health and continuous re-admittance to hospital after falling ill in prison on two separate occasions.

The compassionate leave was precipitated upon requests by Sieh's legal team expressing 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."

During the one month of his release, Siehis not allowed to leave the city limits according to the terms of his temporary freedom letter.

Barely four days after the journalist's release the Supreme Court filed a writ of contempt on Justice Minister Tah and Cllr. Howard, lawyer representing the legal interest of freed journalist Sieh.

At Wednesday's hearing amidst a large turn-out of journalists and civil society advocates, friends of the high court representing the Supreme Court led by Cllr. Cyril Jones and Negbalee Warner asked the court for continuance (time) in order to prepare their legal memorandum which was endorsed by the Chief Justice Francis Korkpor though the legal memorandum of the journalist's lawyer was available.

Ahead of the contempt hearing Justice Minister Tah has justified her position in her latest comment on the issue, adding that the Justice Ministry acted in the confines of the law that the decision to release Sieh on Compassionate grounds forms part of her function as attorney-general of the republic.

However, Chief Justice Korkpor ordered the hearing adjourned and case re-assigned for Monday October 21, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.

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