By Ralph Geeplay
Lawyers representing Frontpageafrica Editor Rodney Sieh have secured his release for 30 days in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. The lawyers contended that Sieh’s imprisonment violated various provisions of the Liberian constitution of 1986, including the prohibition against debt bondage in Article 12, the Equal Protection Clause of Article 11, the due process clause of Article 20, and the directive against extreme punishment in Article 21. Kwame Clement [Pro bono] a former Liberian journalist and broadcaster who reside in Maryland, the United Statres in collaboration with Musa Dean and Samuel Kofi woods are leading the charge to see Sieh release.
Reports say former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe sought an apology from the editor, but Sieh refused on grounds that his reports implicating the former minister to related corruption charges were correct. About a month ago lawyers representing Sieh filed a petition at the Temple of Justice which housed the Liberian Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of his incarceration under Section 44.71 of the Liberian Civil Procedure Law and demanding his instant freedom.
A former Works Minister and known Liberian human rights lawyer, Samuel Kofi Woods, who is one of Sieh’s lawyers said the release is consistent with Liberian laws.
According to reports Sieh was released from prison by Liberia’s Attorney General Christina Tarr. Sources also say President Sirleaf who just returned to Liberia after a lengthy foreign travel which took her to Toronto Canada, the United Nations General Assembly and Costa Rica, heard an earful during her trip about the journalist imprisonment. Sirleaf wrote two separate articles in the Toronto’s Globe and Mail and the Washington Times to refute allegations and international condemnations that her government was strangling the Liberian press in the Western African country which she leads. Sirleaf is a 2011 Noble peace price recipient.
Sieh was jailed on August 21st after he was unable to pay a US $1.6 million libel judgment to former Agriculture Minister J. Chris Toe. Sieh claimed jurors were bribed with two of them admitting to receiving fees and that Philip Banks, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the opinion that held him liable for libel should have recused himself from the bench, given that the law firm representing Toe is part owned by his family.
Woods, Sieh’s Lawyer, said the Attorney General granted the provisional discharge under one condition, that the FPA editor will remain in Liberia and to request permission from the “assistant Minister of Justice for Rehabilitation, under whose office the prison is being supervised, according to the VOA.
“This is what is referred to as compassionate leave. It is provided for under Section 34.20 of our criminal procedure law under which the Attorney General, who is the Minister of Justice, could exercise an authority to grant leave to a prisoner for certain reasons,” said Cllr. Woods.
Woods said the lawyers demanded the provisional discharge due to Sieh’s health condition, which has worsened no two separate occasions due tom poor prison condition.
“We did indicate that there has been persistent illness of Rodney Sieh, and also we have been engaged in a particular dialogue and substantial progress has been made. And, therefore, it would be a good thing to allow Rodney out (of jail) while we continue this process,” Woods said.
Sieh was admitted to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Hospital late August suffering from an undisclosed illness, which media reports has said was malaria. Liberian prisons are notoriously understaff and services non-conforming to international or regional standards, the Liberian government has done little according to prison advocates to improve prisons conditions in the country since Sirleaf came to power, according to prison advocates.