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Liberia justice minister suspended by Supreme Court

The Liberian Supreme Court on Friday barred Justice Minister Christiana Tah [official profile] from practicing law for six months, according to Liberia's state radio, after being found guilty of contempt. The ruling cited Tah's decision [AP report] to grant "compassionate release" to journalist Rodney Sieh, who was jailed last year in connection with a libel case, as the reason for its ruling and her suspension. In 2010, Sieh's newspaper printed allegations [AP report] that Agriculture Minister Chris Toe's ministry could not account for millions of dollars, leading Toe to file a libel claim against the journalist. Sieh was jailed in August after failing to produce the USD $1.5 million that Toe was awarded by the court. The justice minister allowed the journalist to be released for 30 days in October after he was hospitalized with malaria, which critics say was not compatible with Liberian law. Toe withdrew his claim in November. The Supreme Court called Sieh's release a disregard of the court's order [allAfrica report], despite the fact that his right to seek medical treatment while in prison was not surrendered.

There have been many recent controversies involving imprisonment of and danger to journalists throughout the world. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report [JURIST report] finding Syria the most dangerous nation in the world for journalists, with Egypt and Iraw just behind. Also in December, Egyptian authorities detained [JURIST report] four journalists working for the Al Jazeera English news channel. The journalists have been accused [AFP report] of broadcasting illegally, spreading false information and information aimed at inciting the public, and meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood [party website, JURIST news archive], an Islamist group that was classified as a terrorist organization [JURIST report] by the Egyptian government. In November Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] urging the government of Chad to release prisoners held without charges or charge them with a recognizable criminal offenses. The government is allegedly using charges such as "inciting racial hatred," "defamation" and "endangering national security" to justify the arrests of journalists, human rights defenders, trade-unionists and students. Earlier that year a journalist was arrested [JURIST report] in Somalia for false claims after interviewing a woman who claimed to have been raped by government security forces, prompting the release of a joint statement from a collection of human rights groups and free-press advocates.

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