Liberia: Rodney Sieh permanently released, newspaper re-opened

English PEN joins PEN International in welcoming the permanent release of Rodney Sieh, founder and editor of award-winning newspaper FrontPageAfrica

Veteran journalist Rodney Sieh was jailed on 21 August 2013 because he was unable to pay a fine equivalent to US$1.5 million in libel damages to former agriculture minister Chris Toe. Sieh was permanently released from Monrovia Central Prison on 8 November 2013 after negotiations led to Toe agreeing to waive all judgement, money and claims against him. The release was formalised in a court hearing on 18 November, which also ordered the re-opening of Sieh’s newspaper.

Article 21 of Liberia’s Constitution states that ‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted.’ Despite this, there have been a number of libel cases brought against Liberian media outlets in recent years where plaintiffs have sought civil damages of US$1 million and above.

In July 2012, President Sirleaf became the second African head of state to endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws throughout Africa. However, more than a year later, Liberia has yet to comply with this commitment.  In November 2012, the Press Union of Liberia presented a draft bill to the parliament that would abolish defamation as a criminal offence in the country, but it has yet to be passed. Currently, the Liberian Penal Code imposes criminal penalties for ‘criminal libel against the President’ (section 11.11), ‘sedition’ (11.12) and ‘criminal malevolence’ (11.14).

For further information, please visit the PEN International website.

TAKE ACTION

Please send appeals:

  • Welcoming the permanent release of FrontPageAfrica founder and editor Rodney Sieh on 8 November 2013, and the subsequent re-opening of the newspaper’s office;
  • Urging the president to ensure that no one, including any journalist, is imprisoned solely for failing to pay a fine and, in line with Article 21 of Liberia’s Constitution, to adopt libel damages commensurate with the harm caused;
  • Urging the president to repeal criminal defamation laws in Liberia, in line with the commitment she made when signing the Declaration of Table Mountain in July 2012.

H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of the Republic of Liberia
Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs
Executive Mansion
P.O. Box 9001
Capitol Hill, Monrovia
Republic of Liberia
Email: info@emansion.gov.lr

Minister of Justice and Attorney General
Hon. Christiana H. Tah
via the Ministry of Justice contact form

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

View all posts by Cat Lucas →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *