Liberia: Keep Exposing Corruption, Injustice & Human Rights Abuses

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The Editor,

Journalism in rogue, pseudo- democracies can mean life or death, long prison sentences, loss of your business and often times, journalists would go into exile if you refuse to dance to the music of brutal dictators, tyrants or wanna-be democrats.

They love you when they are seeking power as they use your news outlet to criticize the corrupt leaders they wish to replace. But once in power, you are branded “enemies of the state.”

Mr. Rodney D. Sieh has seen angels seeking power and then turned tyrants once in power in his journalism career.

They come and go in all shapes and forms, genders, sprinkle themselves with a little religion but what they have in common never changes corruption, suppression of press freedom, human rights abuses, and nepotism.

For Rodney Sieh, they continue to bend him but they can’t break his will power. Not even a 5,000-year jail sentence has deterred him. To run your country’s number-one-rated newspaper has its risks including closing down his newspaper business.

Case in point: In 2013, Mr. Sieh spent his birthday in jail at the notorious Monrovia South Beach Gulag/Prison during the regime of Liberia and Africa’s first elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This happened two years after President Sirleaf “won” the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. So, what crime did Rodney Sieh commit to being sentenced to jail for 5,000 years? Come ride with me.

Known for exposing corruption in government, Mr. Sieh was “convicted” for publishing the government’s official audit report that alleged that then Agriculture Minister Chris Toe failed to account for millions of dollars given to him to fight a batch of armyworms that had contaminated drinking water and destroyed food crops in Nimba and Bong Counties.

Minister Toe sued Rodney Sieh and his FrontPageAfrica newspaper and was awarded $US2 million in damages. Mr. Toe’s argument was that he was never prosecuted and convicted. When is it the duty of the Press to prosecute wrongdoers in a democracy? The case eventually found its way to the Supreme Court of Liberia on appeal.

I am not a lawyer but there is something in law known as “conflict of interest.” But then this is Liberia, Africa’s first failed experiment at democracy 173 years and counting.

Then Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis and Associate Justice Phillip Banks graduated from the prestigious Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law with honors; were also Dean of the Law School and also graduated from world-famous Harvard and Columbia University law schools.

This is where it gets tricky for me when the case went up to our Supreme Court. But then this is Liberia. Mr. Chris Toe hired Phillips’ former law firm and law partner, Cllr. Emmanuel James. Justice Phillip Banks saw no reason to recuse himself from hearing the case. He was the Justice-in- Chambers that heard the case.

Any conflict of interest red flags in this case? But then this is Liberia. Add to that, Cllr. Emmanuel James’ wife is a younger sister of Associate Justice Phillip Banks. Banks upheld the guilty verdict of the lower court against journalist Rodney Sieh.

After the government padlocked his newspaper’s offices, police were out hunting for Rodney Sieh even though the law says you cannot arrest someone and take him to jail in such a case after 6:00 P.M. The system was out to teach Mr. Sieh a lesson.

Under the payment plan, it would take Mr. Sieh 5000 years to pay the $US2 million to Chris Toe while he rots at the overcrowded, unsanitary South Beach Prison.

The international community was outraged and took issues with Nobel Laureate President Sirleaf. She would say the Judicial Branch was ” independent.”

I am proud of my role as lead organizer of a “Free Rodney Sieh Protest” by Liberians in America at the United Nations Headquarters where President Sirleaf was scheduled to speak. The negative publicity and pressure from President Barack Obama’s White House forced the Liberian authorities to release Mr. Sieh from jail, but by then he had spent 30 days in prison.

We thank Journalists for Human Rights in recognizing the importance of Mr. Sieh’s work. Therefore, CONGRATULATIONS Ambassador Rodney Sieh. Keep doing what you do best: exposing corruption, injustice and human rights abuses in our beloved Liberia.

Jerry Wehtee Wion
Washington, DC, USA

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