Liberia’s Ministry of Justice has granted a journalist imprisoned since August a 30-day “compassionate release” after the journalist’s health had deteriorated in prison.
Rodney Sieh, the publisher of FrontPage Africa, was jailed for not paying the U.S. $1.5 million penalty imposed after printing a story about government corruption that was judged libelous.
Former Liberian Minister of Agriculture Chris Toe brought charges against Sieh in 2010, when FrontPage Africa used documents from Liberia’s auditing and concession commissions to report government misappropriation of funds. The funds were supposed to be set aside to stop worm infestations of major crops in two counties.
Toe argued that the reports were libelous because he had never been convicted of a crime in a court of law when he had to resign over the controversy.
After a lower civil law court ruled in Toe’s favor in July 2011, brought the case to the Supreme Court for an appeal. The Supreme Court upheld the civil courts’ decision, charging Sieh with 1.5 million in libel damages. When Sieh couldn’t pay the damages, the Supreme Court sent him to Monrovia Central Prison and shut down FrontPage Africa.
Sieh reported he was beaten on his way to jail and refused to eat or drink for the first week of his sentence.
Sieh’s lawyers filed for the compassionate release because his health was beginning to deteriorate. Sieh is currently undergoing malaria treatment in Monrovia but is not allowed to leave the capital city without permission.
CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita "said "Liberia's libel laws should be reformed so that no journalist is incarcerated and no newspaper shut down in connection with publishing news." It is unclear what will happen to Sieh after the 30-day release is up, but his lawyers continue to appeal his incarceration.