(GIN)—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was scheduled to receive the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize last week, despite a global campaign by free speech advocates protesting the jailing of noted newsman and managing editor, Rodney Sieh.
Sieh, editor of FrontPageAfrica, was jailed after he refused to pay a judgment of $1.5 million won by a former minister in a libel suit. Sieh also refused to pay $90,000 for costs of the court.
Vandalark Patricks, director of Campaigners for Change, a local human rights organization, called the fee impossibly high.
“Even if you combine all the newspapers in this country, they will not be able to raise that amount,” he said.
The Press Union of Liberia added: “Is it the wisdom of our Supreme Court that Rodney Sieh should spend more years in jail on libel than former President Charles Taylor who was sentenced to fifty years for war crimes? This is judicial tyranny!”
Former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe filed the suit in 2010 after a letter appeared in Sieh’s paper, purportedly from Toe’s deputy and addressed to the president, that linked the minister to mismanaged government funds. Toe was forced to resign.
A Supreme Court decision upheld a lower court’s ruling that found Sieh guilty of libel against Toe. To compensate Toe for the damage done to his reputation, Sieh was charged $1.5 million or jail time until the fine is paid.
International Press Institute spokeswoman Barbara Trionfi weighed in.
“The jailing of the editor, closure of the newspaper’s Monrovia offices and size of the award are disproportionate.
“In this spirit, we urge (President Sirleaf) to examine whether jailing a journalist is appropriate. We ask the Liberian courts to reconsider the penalty, knowing full well that $1.5 million is excessive in a country that is as poor as Liberia.
“In addition, interfering with the production of FrontPageAfrica denies Mr. Sieh’s staff their livelihoods, and deprives the Liberian public of an important source of information. This case sends the wrong message about press freedom in Liberia at a time when President Johnson Sirleaf has vowed to reform the media laws,” Trionfi said.
GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18 print edition.
Category: Africa Briefs