Toronto, Canada – The Managing Editor of FrontPageAfrica. Rodney D. Sieh, on Thursday called for an immediate end to anti-media and free speech laws across the world.
Sieh who has already been awarded Journalist of the Year as well and the FrontPageAfrica won the Newspaper of the Year by the Press Union of Liberia in 2015 was recognized by JHR at a festive Night for Rights Gala.
The FPA Editor is being honoured as one of this year’s William Southam Journalism Fellowship at Massey College/University of Toronto in collaboration with the Journalists for Human Rights.
Speaking at the ceremony, the FPA Editor he emphasized the need for journalists around the world to be steadfast in the discharge of their duty.
“I’m here today because I refused to back down, I refused to give in and refused to accept the norms that allow corrupt officials of government to take hard-earned tax dollars and pocket them for their own use,” Sieh told the global gathering.
“Had I backed down and given in; I would not be with you all today; but rather serving out the duration of a 5,000-year jail sentence for criminal libel which is still legal on the books in my country.”
Liberia in 2012 signed the Table Mountain Declaration, a commitment which seeks to decriminalize libel and other media-related crimes.
However, libel is still a criminal offense in Liberia with a number of lawsuits filed against journalists and media institutions.
Sieh himself was, in 2013, a victim of such circumstance over a lawsuit filed by former Minister of Agriculture Dr. Christopher Toe and was jailed over the matter.
He recalled: “In essence, as I wrote in my New York Times Op-Ed from prison, I was jailed for journalism.
“I was simply doing my job, making sure that corrupt officials do not get away with money foreign governments like Canada give to countries like Liberia.
“I was sued along with my newspaper after we published the findings of an independent audit that found $6m of ministerial funds went unaccounted for.
“The minister was dismissed and became one of scores of government members who have been identified by the corruption watchdog and fired but never prosecuted.
“My newspaper was shut down for three months during my incarceration and ordeal.”
“The criminal libel law for which I was found liable and later imprisoned for 5,845 days and later vacated by the court, is a draconian anti media and anti-freedom of the press law which the President of Liberia has vowed to repeal and has come under immense international condemnation.”
Sieh said countries like Liberia and host nation Canada should do all in their power to take off those anti-press freedom laws from their law books.
“In fact, I just found out during my ordeal to get a visa here, that such a law is also still on the books here in Canada,” he said.
“Sadly, here in Canada, your country has carried an anti-blasphemy law in the criminal code since 1892.”
He added that he is using his experience to encourage journalists, entertainers, politicians and others to speak truth to power and urge governments of the world to consider removing archaic, draconian laws from their books.
Sieh and FrontPageAfrica’s affiliation with JHR dates back to 2010 when it worked with reporters of the newspaper and the FrontPageAfrica boss is cognizant of the cordial, productive relationship with that international institution.
“Passing up a chance to help my staff build capacity would have been a journalism suicide,” he said.
“We needed all the help we could get and JHR provided that,” he explained.
“Working with JHR and our partners, New Narratives, we produced a number of heart-wrenching stories, not just about corruption but stories that hit the core of our country’s post-war development.
“Stories about prostitution, about young girls selling their bodies for as little as less than 50 Canadian cents for a round of sex, stories about communities living on the fringes of underdevelopment, stories of poor sanitation and poverty; and most especially, stories about human rights.”
He urged countries giving Liberia aid to ask for accountability if they want donations meet its purpose.
“This is where we come as journalists, the unsolicited gatekeepers simply ensuring that aid monies reach the intended targets- the poor and needy.
“That’s why we need to ensure that journalists can work in freedom.”
The Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) is Canada’s leading media development organization, which trains journalists to report on human rights and governance issues in their communities.
JHR believes that, “Creating rights awareness is the first and most necessary step to ending rights abuses.
By mobilizing the media to spread human rights awareness, JHR informs people about human rights, empowering marginalized communities to stand up, speak out and protect themselves.”
JHR has worked in 21 countries and trained over 12,000 journalists whose human rights stories have reached over 50 million people.
JHR employs a “reciprocal change” approach, a process that involves local media partnerships and development outcomes determined through participatory consultation with Editors and Owners, Working Journalists, Students, and Civil Society within a region.
JHR currently has programs in Ghana, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Ontario. It also has representatives and non-profit status in the United States and the United Kingdom.