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Following 30-day release and house arrest, Liberian publisher back in jail

Members of the press protest against the ongoing imprisonment of Rodney Sieh, at a rally outside the Press Union of Liberia, in Monrovia, 23 September 2013.
Members of the press protest against the ongoing imprisonment of Rodney Sieh, at a rally outside the Press Union of Liberia, in Monrovia, 23 September 2013.

AP Photo/Mark Darrough

There has been no let-up in the legal maneuverings bent on upholding the conviction of a Lower Court that sentenced the publisher of FrontPage Africa, Rodney Sieh, until a US $1.6 million damage fee is defrayed.

The latest development confirms that today, 8 November 2013, Sieh was whisked back to maximum prison after being granted a 30 day compassionate release last month by the Minister of Justice Christiana Tah. This decision was challenged by the Supreme Court.

An ensuing legal wrangling followed between the Justice Minister and the Supreme Court. The Justice Minister maintained that it was within the ambit of the law for the compassionate release to be granted. The Supreme Court, however, differed on the motion – citing unprocedural issues in law that one person was bound to carry the day.

Rodney Sieh had since been subjected to house arrest, whilst the two legal contentions fought for preeminence. Clearly the Justice Minister has lost face. She has ostensibly been playing a mitigating role, considering the scandal of an onerous court ruling against the journalist that is taking away from the democratic pretensions of Liberia.

Whilst in prison, Sieh's health condition had deteriorated to warrant admittance to the John F Kennedy Hospital on two occasions. He was in-between his admittance, whisked to prison on two occasions, even as no medical confirmation was obtained from doctors to attest a timely discharge of the journalist.

In the face of increasing local and international criticisms about this matter – leading to the closure of one of the country's leading media houses – the government has been showing aloofness, arguing that it is a private case between two citizens.

Many observers have differed that there is no political behind-the-scene arm-twisting in a matter that is grounded on outmoded laws – running counter to the Declaration of Table Mountain that Liberia has signed on to.

As Sieh is tossed in and out of prison owing to the doggedness of the plaintiff, former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe – making what has been described as unreasonable demands for closure of the matter – there are all indications that this matter will be heard in the ECOWAS Court. “We will provide support for Sieh to seek redress in the ECOWAS court, on this, we are in consultation with our partners, Media Legal Defence UK,” disclosed Malcolm Joseph, Executive Director of Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP).

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