The publisher of the FrontPage Africa print and online newspaper of Liberia was hospitalized late Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia after being taken there from his prison cell.
Authorities jailed Rodney Sieh a week ago after he said he could not afford to pay a $1.5 million fine imposed by the Supreme Court after finding him guilty of libeling then Agriculture Minister J. Chris Toe.
FrontPage Africa editor Wade Williams said authorities were not allowing relatives to see Sieh at the hospital.
“I received a call almost past 1 o’clock this morning from someone at the hospital who said Rodney was brought here by people at the Monrovia Central Prison. And so, I hurriedly came and there were other people who were here, including some of Rodney’s relatives,” she said.
Williams said security forces guarding the hospital prevented her from seeing Sieh. But she said his lawyer and former Liberian Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods was allowed to see Sieh.
Williams said she was told afterward that Sieh was brought to the hospital after he fell sick and started vomiting. She said he was later diagnosed with malaria.
There have been rumors that Sieh had gone on a hunger strike to protest his arrest and imprisonment. But, it was not immediately clear whether his hospitalization was the result of the hunger strike.
Toe sued FrontPage Africa in 2010 after the paper reported what it said were the findings of an official government investigation which accused the then agriculture minister of corruption.
In his complaint to the court, Toe said FrontPage Africa libeled him, even though he was never tried and convicted of any crime.
Many legal analysts say FrontPage Africa should have encouraged its lawyers to appear before the Supreme Court when the case was considered. Instead, Sieh chose not to on the grounds that the legal system was biased against him.
Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua said Sieh should apologize to the Supreme Court but not to the former agriculture minister.
Quaqua said the union will continue to be an advocate for the rule of law and will at all times encourage journalists who come into conflict with the law to submit to the legal system.
But, he said the union will not support the outcome of a court hearing that violates the basic rights of Liberians.
Sieh told Williams from his prison cell that he will not apologize to Toe. Instead he said he wants the former minister to be prosecuted for alleged corruption.
Sieh also said he will not negotiate his release until FrontPage Africa is allowed to resume publishing.