Libel Tourism Deterred

By The American Spectator | by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
Thursday, September 17th, 2009 @ 9:40PM

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READER MAIL Libel Tourism Deterred By Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld Director, American Center for Democracy (ACD) LIBEL TOURISM AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Re: Aaron Eitan Meyer’s Islamist Lawfare:

The Saudi billionaire and serial “libel tourist” Khalid bin Mahfouz is dead, but libel tourism (the use of foreign courts to sue American writers) continues to threaten Americans free speech rights. Sadly, the Special Report on Islamist Lawfare by Aaron Eitan Meyer that appeared in the Spectator on September 15 misleads the reader to think that fighting for laws to protect Americans from libel tourism is “dangerous.” Specifically, Meyer hopes that “bin Mahfouz’s demise will provide an end to the dangerous overemphasis that has been placed on libel tourism.” Such a statement is astonishing from the assistant director of the Legal Project of the Middle East Forum, which uses the dire threat of libel tourism to raise funds for their own organization.

On its own website, the Legal Project offers my struggle against Mahfouz as its first example of silencing free speech. Mahfouz objected to my exposure of his terror financing activities in my book Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed — and How to Stop It, which was published only in the U.S. Instead of suing me here, he chose the British libel laws and courts in an attempt to silence me. Until I decided to fight for my Constitutional rights for free expression, libel tourism was successfully used as a weapon to intimidate the American media into silence.

Mahfouz, who did the Saudi royals’ bidding, was a serial suer. He frequently used archaic British libel laws that allow foreigners to sue other foreigners in British courts. Often with his son Abdulrahman, he sued more than 40 writers and publishers — mostly Americans — because he did not like their criticism. Mahfouz made libel tourism a multimillion-dollar industry for the British Bar, and turned London into the “Libel Capital” of the world. On behalf of the Saudis, Mahfouz succeeded in using libel tourism as a weapon to intimidate the Western media from reporting on Saudi terror financing, and even from reporting his death.

However, due to my personal efforts, in May 2008, New York State was the first to pass the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” aka “Rachel’s Law” protecting New Yorkers from the likes of Mahfouz. Since then, Illinois and Florida passed similar laws and in California, the governor is about to sign the anti-libel tourism law. Moreover, as a direct result of Mahfouz’s libel terrorism, the bipartisan Free Speech Protection Act 2009, sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter, Joseph Lieberman, Charles Schumer and Ron Wyden, is now pending in Congress.

The bill is widely supported by major writers and publishers’ organizations in the U.S. These legislative victories were achieved with the endorsement of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and the Association of American Publishers (AAP); the American Library Association; American Association of University Professors, the New York City Bar Association, and many others. This bipartisan broad-based support could be the reason behind the Saudi new initiative to prevent this bill from passing. They recently hired U.S.-based international law firms to publicly lobby against the Free Speech Protection Act.

Nevertheless, the U.S. is the only country to make free speech the foundation of its Constitution, and this bill would protect Americans free speech rights from foreign libel judgments that do not provide protection similar to our Constitution. Moreover, to deter libel tourism, the bill allows for countersuit and damages. A different version sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, passed in the House earlier this year.

Congress passed many laws to protect us from the threats of terrorist attacks. It should now act to stop the war on our First Amendment and strengthen the protection of our rights for free expression. Congress should pass the Free Speech Protection Act 2009 without further delay.

— Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld Director, American Center for Democracy (ACD)

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Categories: Free Speech & Libel Tourism