Journalist on Trial— Searing Memoir of Rodney D. Sieh

Journalist in prison--Photo Gregory Stemn

The managing editor of FrontPageAfrica newspaper, Rodney D. Sieh, has released his first book, with the title: “Journalist on Trial-Fighting Corruption, Media Muzzling and a 5,000-Year Prison Sentence in Liberia.”

The 5,000 years sentence was due to his failure to pay libel damages of US$1.6 million (£1.2 million) won by “a former minister who sued my paper after we published the findings of a government audit,” Sieh wrote in his BBC Letter from Africa, which is featured in the book.

He also said “I served four months in 2013 in the notorious Monrovia Central Prison, where I was thrown into a cell with murderers, armed robbers, and petty criminals. The prison, built in the capital city to hold 200 prisoners, has more than 1,000 inmates. Nearly half of them have been detained without trial.”

The book, published by Barnes and Noble, a United States publisher, is described by reviewers as a story of Liberia’s modern struggles, beginning with the invasion of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, (NPFL).

According to a reviewer, Rachel Pulfer, executive director for Human Rights Canada, it is “A powerful and important book from a powerful and vitally important voice. Here’s to more of this voice shaping the conversation about Liberia and Africa – for decades to come.”

Though a copy is yet to reach the Daily Observer newspaper, several editorial reviewers have reported on the contents of the book. Roy S. Gutterman, Associate Professor/Director, Tully Center for Free Speech said “Rodney Sieh not only tells his life story and principled stance as Liberia’s leading journalist, but in many ways, he tells the story of Liberia’s modern struggles. His courage to report the truth, despite the risk to his freedom and his life, shows his remarkable dedication to freedom of the press and to his homeland.”

Brooke Gladstone, editor, WNYC Radio Program, On The Media, also said “A legend in Liberia, and a mystery to those closest to him, Rodney D. Sieh is the most committed journalist I’ve ever known. His stark account, without swagger or false humility, takes us from his youth in a blasted, brutalized Liberia straight through the horrors that forged him and out the other side. For Sieh, journalism is a creed, a faith that offers salvation to a world in urgent need of it, and his story shows the high price of living without compromise.”

Helene Cooper, author of House on Sugar Beach, said, “This is a searing memoir, a must-read for anyone interested in the mass of contradictions that lives in almost everyone in today’s Liberia. If you are paying attention to Liberia and not paying attention to Rodney D. Sieh, then you are not really paying attention to Liberia.”

Said Angela Quintal, Africa Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists,  “Acclaimed Liberian editor and publisher, Rodney D. Sieh, embodies Dooley’s adage that journalism is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable… civil war, coups, and corruption, you name it, Sieh has chronicled it. Then in 2013, Sieh became front page news. This is his story: one of courage, principle and afflicting the powerful.”

Additional information said in Journalist on Trial, Rodney gives a captivating story “as one of Africa’s finest investigative journalists. This is not just Rodney’s story but the story of virtually every journalist today, an era that has become consumed by daily tweets of a sitting US President and a 24-hour news circle that has seen real news eclipsed by fake news where some leaders of the so-called “free world” are terrorizing journalists into submission.”

He also recounts his arrests, prosecutions, and investigations of prominent Liberian government officials in which he was sentenced to 5,000 years in imprisonment for a “trumped-up libel charge in 2013, Sieh’s arrest and jailing triggered an international outcry and highlighted the continuing existence of criminal libel statutes in Africa where politicians use the courts to intimidate and silence the media from exposing their corruption.”

The message to the average reader or advocate is clear, as Rodney said, “Had I succumbed, I would by now have been among the hundreds of journalists in the forgotten pages of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual press report. Had I backed down, perhaps I would still be serving a 5,000-year jail sentence for criminal libel, a law I intend to fight for as long as I live. I have come this far because I refuse to back down and I refuse to give in.”

Finally, the publisher of the book said, “It has been an honor and a privilege to publish Rodney D. Sieh’s Journalist on Trial, a remarkable book championing freedom of the press in an era when ‘alternative facts’ (lies) are all too often presented as truth while actual facts are disregarded as ‘fake news’ – even when reported by some of the most respected journalists and publications in the world today.”


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