There has been a dramatic twist in the case of journalist Rodney D. Sieh, Managing Editor of the now shut-down FrontPageAfrica newspaper. A letter issued by the Ministry of Justice under the directive of Justice Minister Christiana Tah has placed the journalist under House arrest for the remaining period of his 30-day compassionate release issued on October 8, 2013.
The twist comes in the wake of the Supreme Court's summoning of the minister of justice last week questioning the compassionate leave given by the justice minister, which led to the release for the Mr. Sieh who had spent over a month in prison.
The letter dated October 18, 2013, addressed to Cllr. Beyan D. Howard, legal counsel to the journalist and signed by Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, Deputy Minister of justice places Mr. Sieh under house arrest and police surveillance.
"Please be informed accordingly, that effectively immediately and upon the directive of the minister of Justice and Attorney General, Hon. Christiana Tah, Your client, Mr. Rodney Sieh, is to remain confined to his house until the expiration of the period granted for the compassionate leave," states the letter.
"If for any compelling reason Mr. Sieh is leave his house, he must obtain prior approval from the Assistant Minister of Justice for correction and rehabilitation."
Mr. Sieh has been instructed to strictly abide by the terms of this new directive and the police have been given the authority to enforce it to the letter.
"Please be informed accordingly, that effectively immediately and upon the directive of the minister of Justice and Attorney General, Hon. Christiana Tah, Your client, Mr. Rodney Sieh, is to remain confined to his house until the expiration of the period granted for the compassionate leave. If for any compelling reason Mr. Sieh is leave his house, he must obtain prior approval from the Assistant Minister of Justice for correction and rehabilitation," the letter continues.
"To ensure that the aforesaid additional conditionality is observed, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has been directed to keep 24-hours Surveillance on Mr. Sieh'shouse and its immediate perimeter. Any attempt by Mr. Sieh to leave his house without prior approval as herein provided, shall be considered a violation of the conditions of his leave."
Minister Tah granted compassionate release to Sieh who spent over a month in jail, and this action invoked the wrath of members of the Liberian Supreme Court and the body under the leadership of Chief Justice Francis Korpkor.
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.
The compassionate release issued by the minister was to last for thirty days and 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.
The initial terms and condition of the one-month compassionate leave, Sieh is not allowed to leave the city limits according to the terms of his temporary freedom letter. The minister upon receiving this request and based on her conviction that Sieh who had been moved between the prison and the hospital was not convicted of a crime that he should be among common criminals issued the release on compassionate grounds.
"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."
But last week, the justice ministry requested the passport of the journalist under the pretense of making a copy of it but the passport has for the past three days been in the possession of the ministry.
Both Justice minister Tah and Cllr. Beyan Howard have been threatened with debarment if the pair who worked on the compassionate release does not apologize to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers representing the legal interest of the journalist who spent more than a month in prison wrote Minister Tah requesting the compassionate release for their client and she granted it based in keeping with chapter 34 section 34.20 of the criminal procedure law, 1LCLR. Legal experts who spoke to FPA but begged not to be named because the Supreme court might take drastic action against them by suspending their licenses to operate have said Minister Tah was right to base her reliance on the law since Sieh was not convicted of any crime.
It can be recalled that few years ago during the tenure of Chief Justice Johnny Lewis, FPA did a series of articles linking members of the court to corruption, since then relationship between it and Sieh has been sour. In 2010, Sieh was jailed by the court on contempt charges because of a letter he published from one of his readers, which accused one of the justices of being biased in the Angel Tokpa murder trial.
At Wednesday's hearing, friends of the high court representing the Supreme Court led by Cllr. Cyril Jones and Negbelee 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 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. As a result of the new development in the case, as the Supreme Court now demands an apology from Minister Tah and Cllr. Howard, it is unclear whether the minister will apologize to the high court as she is not even allowed to defend herself before it.