On October 8, 2013, Rodney Sieh was accorded 30 days of “compassionate” leave from prison due to health concerns after having already been previously hospitalized twice for pneumonia and malaria. On October 18, 2013, Rodney Sieh was ordered by the justice ministry to be placed under house arrest for the remainder of his 30 days of leave. Sieh was returned to prison on November 8, 2013, at the end of his “compassionate” leave, but released later that day. According to reports, former agriculture minister Dr. Christopher Toe, who had initially instigated the $1.5 million libel case against Sieh after accusing him of defamation, issued a Bill of Information indicating that he was dropping the case. In response, Sieh’s lawyers also issued a Bill of Information asking the court to officially drop the charges against Sieh. On November 18, 2013, a court ordered Sieh’s release. On November 25, 2013, also by a court mandate, the offices of FrontPageAfrica, a private daily newspaper that was run by Sieh and that had been shut down at the time of his arrest, reopened.
Under Sieh’s leadership, FrontPageAfrica set a new standard for journalism in Liberia with groundbreaking reporting that has brought down senior government figures and exposed corruption at all levels. The paper has also broken new ground in the large number of women journalists it employs; Wade Williams is Liberia’s first ever woman newsroom chief.
Rodney Sieh is a Liberian journalist with over seventeen years’ experience working in Liberia and abroad. He is the founder and editor of FrontPageAfrica, which has won numerous awards for its reporting and is renowned for its coverage of corruption, official misconduct and human rights violations. He has also worked for several US newspapers, including Newport News, Syracuse Post Standard and The Daily Record.
In February 2011, Sieh, the newspaper, and FrontPageAfrica reporter Samwar Fallah were found guilty of libeling former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe, and ordered to pay US$1.5 million in damages and US$900,000 in court costs. The case related to the publication of two articles in FrontPageAfrica which accused Toe of corruption. FrontPageAfrica requested but was denied a retrial, despite reports that members of the jury had been bribed. According to Sieh’s lawyer, Samuel Kofi Woods, the trial was marred by a number of other irregularities, including links between one Supreme Court justice and the law firm representing Toe.
On July 15, 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the February 2011 judgment, stating that the appeal process had not been completed. According to Woods, this was due to the fact that in Liberia an appeal can only be heard if the defendant pays a bond of two per cent of the total amount owed, which Sieh could not afford. The newspaper is appealing the case before the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African Stats (ECOWAS). After his imprisonment, Sieh went on a hunger strike, and was reportedly admitted to the hospital on August 28, 2013 after vomiting and fainting in his prison cell. He was then diagnosed with malaria, and spent an additional 22 days in the hospital.
On August 21, 2013, Rodney Sieh was jailed after Liberia’s Supreme Court upheld a decision ordering him to pay a former government minister US$1.5 million in libel damages. The judge ordered the newspaper’s closure and Sieh’s detention pending payment on August 20. Unable to pay the fine, which reportedly amounts to more than 30 times the newspaper’s annual operating budget, Sieh was incarcerated in Monrovia Central Prison the next day. Given the size of the fine, Sieh faced effective life imprisonment. As the Press Union of Liberia stated: “[…] it is 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.”
While FrontPageAfrica’s offices in Monrovia were closed on August 23, the paper’s website, which is registered in the USA, continued to publish news.