Rodney Sieh was jailed for uncovering corruption. Can Liberia still be regarded as a shining example of democracy?
In February of 2011, a Liberian court convicted Rodney Sieh and FrontPage Africa of criminal libel and ordered them to pay US$1.5 million. That sum far exceeds the newspaper’s yearly profits. It guarantees the newspaper, an award-winning enterprise that is one of the few homes of unbiased reporting in the country, will have to fold.
On August 23, 2013, with the sum still unpaid, the authorities came for Sieh, the Managing Editor. According to FrontPage Africa:
The sudden arrest and detention of Sieh on orders of the Supreme Court stemmed from a news story in which the paper wrote in 2010 from the General Auditing Commission report accusing former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe of his alleged failure to account for million of dollar offered him by the government to fight army worms that invaded two counties which left behind series health hazards for residents of the two regions of Bong and Lofa Counties.
During the following week, Sieh’s health deteriorated as he went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest. The authorities also closed the newspaper’s offices. On Thursday, August 29, he was moved to the JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, where he remains today, inaccessible due to heavily armed guards.
Liberia is often celebrated as one of Africa’s leading proponents for a free press. The president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, even received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for “her commitment to and furtherance of the democratic process on an uncertain continent.” The jailing of Sieh runs counter to this ideal.
In the last few days, organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, New Narratives, and the Tully Center for Free Speech have condemned the actions of the Liberian government.
A free press serves the public interest. It is necessary for a democratic state. Without it, a government is held unaccountable and corruption inevitably spreads. A free press is the public voice, an essential component of a modern society.
Read Rodney Sieh’s op-ed in the New York Times.
video production by Cypress Bai
photo credit: Ken Harper