Liberian president urged to reconsider jail time for editor
IPI sees damage award and detention of Rodney Sieh as ‘disproportionate’
By: James Tamba Lebbie
VIENNA, Sept 10, 2013 – As Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf prepares to receive a prestigious peace prize, the International Press Institute today urged her nation’s courts to reconsider the jailing of a newspaper editor in connection with a civil libel case.
Johnson Sirleaf, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, is to be given the Indian government’s Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development during a state visit on Sept. 12.
But Johnson Sirleaf’s government has been dogged by both national and international pressure over the case of FrontPageAfrica publisher and editor Rodney Sieh, who was detained on Aug. 21 on the orders of a Supreme Court judge when he refused to pay a fine of US $1.5 million in damages to a former government minister.
Sieh is being held on US $375,000 bond and has spent time in hospital for treatment of sickness under the observation of security guards. A circuit court sheriff ordered the newspaper's offices shut down on Aug. 23.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said the jailing of the editor, closure of the newspaper's Monrovia offices and size of the award were disproportionate.
“As a signatory of the Declaration of Table Mountain, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has committed to promote the highest standards of press freedom. In this spirit, we urge her to examine whether jailing a journalist is appropriate. We ask the Liberian courts to reconsider the penalty, knowing full well that $1.5 million is excessive in a country that is as poor as Liberia.
“In addition, interfering with the production of FrontPageAfrica denies Mr Sieh’s staff their livelihoods, and deprives the Liberian public of an important source of information. This case sends the wrong message about press freedom in Liberia at a time when President Johnson Sirleaf has vowed to reform the media laws,” Trionfi said.
The libel case stems from a lawsuit filed by former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe, who was forced to resign after the Monrovia newspaper reported that he had improperly diverted government money from agricultural projects. Toe filed the libel suit on May 10, 2010.
Sirleaf shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with another Liberian, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. She is to receive the 2012 Indira Ghandi Prize, named for the Indian prime minister who was assassinated in 1984, during a state visit to India.