- Category: Headlines
- Monday, 02 September 2013 22:35
More demands seem to be mounting for the release of the Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica Newspaper, Rodney Sieh, who has been jailed for libel against former Agriculture Minister, Chris Toe.
The incarceration of Mr. Sieh was prompted by publishing in his paper stories which alleged that Mr. Toe misappropriated over US$6 million intended for fight against an outbreak of Army worms in Bong County in 2010.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has written a letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admonishing her to adhere to the Table Mountain Declaration and as well intervene in the recent court ruling for the reopening of the FPA Newspaper, and subsequent release of its Managing Editor.
Mr. Sieh was jailed on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, following his inability to pay an exorbitant US 1.5 million dollars fine imposed on him in a Supreme Court ruling convicting him of libel.
The CPJ in a letter dated September 2, 2013 to President Sirleaf, reminded of her endorsement a year ago of the Table Mountain Declaration which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws throughout Africa.
The CPJ further urged President Sirleaf to lead Liberia on the following path: Decriminalize defamation; adopt monetary damages for libel commensuration with the harm done and within limits, Liberians can afford and halt the incarceration of the defendants unable to pay which is unusual in civil cases.
“Madam President, according to Article 21 of Liberia’s Constitution, “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted.” The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has stated that sanction shall never be severe as to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, including others. Yet, Liberian Courts have entertained libel cases against news organizations in which plaintiffs sought civil damages of US$1million or more,” the CPJ letter stated.
CPJ further indicated that the FPA is not alone, citing 2010, when the New Democrat Newspaper was ordered to pay US$900,000 in a libel suit in which the plaintiff, Consolidated Group Incorporated sought US$1.3 million in damages; the New Broom for US$5 million over a story of corruption, which resulted to the closure of the paper; and in 2012, when President Sirleaf Senior Adviser and son, Robert Sirleaf, Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia, sued the Independent and Analyst Newspapers for US$11 million, although the case was later withdrawn. No newspaper has won a libel case since President Sirleaf’s election in 2005.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, the President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Peter Quaqua, said in spite of journalist Sieh’s ill-health, he has shown a lot of courage to fight on, but has been advised to abandon his hunger strike, which is thought to have fueled his sickness-no soldier fights on emptied stomach.
Mr. Quaqua noted that as a critical voice, the PUL always musters the courage, if necessary to disagree with Liberia’s governance process, including the justice system.
“We disagree with the court when it argues that it did not go into the merit of the appeal because of the failure of Rodney to perfect the appeal, but at the same time writes in its opinion that, “We believe, however, that the rather unusual circumstances presented in this case, the very revealing mindset of the appellants seemingly hardhearted disregard for the appellate process, their continued display of indignity for and towards the judicial process and their seemingly deliberate disrespect for the constitutional guaranteed rights of other citizens,” the PUL President explained.