Rodney Sieh, the Liberian journalist whose health has been deteriorating since his incarceration in August, was temporarily released on Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports today.
However, the New York-based media watchdog, which is said to be relieved by Sieh’s release, wonders what is going to happen to the journalist after 30 days.
“We are relieved that Rodney has been released on compassionate grounds and call upon the authorities to ensure that he is not sent back to prison after 30 days,” CPJ Africa advocacy coordinator Mohamed Keita said in a statement.
Sieh, the publisher and MD of FrontPage Africa, was detained for not paying damages of US$1.5 million in connection with a libel conviction filed against him by former agriculture minister Chris Toe, local media reports said. The journalist has since filed an appeal, CPJ said.
It is not clear how and where the journalist will get such a huge amount of money to pay for the damages.
Many African countries still use old, archaic laws enacted since the colonial era to convict critical journalists. CPJ called on the government of Liberia to reform its libel laws so that no journalist is incarcerated and no newspaper shut down in connection with publishing news.
In February this year, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced her government’s intention to introduce a media bill before the National Assembly – a bill seeking to revoke a set of archaic anti-media laws such as criminal libel, sedition and criminal malevolence.
But the bill has reportedly never made it to the National Assembly, allowing courts to keep convicting journalists unnecessarily.
Photo: Rodney Sieh (right, wearing a cap), and an official of the political opposition surrounded by security personnel at the court. Credit: FrontPage Africa