"Rachel’s Law" Goes National – U.S House Takes First Step To Protect Free Speech Against "Libel Tour”
By Press Release
Monday, September 29th, 2008 @ 9:48PM
Washington, DC, September 27, 2008 – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed H.R. 6146, crucial legislation that will protect American citizens from foreign libel judgments that undermine their fundamental First Amendment free speech rights. The bill was inspired by the New York State Libel Terrorism Protection Act – commonly known as “Rachel’s Law”, which declared that foreign libel judgments are unenforceable in New York courts. Rachel’s Law was enacted earlier this year.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of American Center for Democracy, championed the New York law during her intense legal battle with Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz. Ehrenfeld noted that the passage of H.R. 6146 was “a first step in the right direction,” but that “more still needs to be done to deter libel tourists from ruining our great tradition of free speech. Specifically, we must allow authors and reporters to countersue for damages. This way, those who exploit foreign libel laws will think twice before bringing these junk lawsuits.”
Ehrenfeld knows first-hand of the harrassment inflicted by this destructive practice of forum shopping. Following the publication of her latest book,Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It, Ehrenfeld was sued in Britain by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz. Ehrenfeld had documented Mahfouz’s involvement in funding HAMAS and al Qaeda. Mahfouz fired back by attempting to force a retraction and apology, pressinga meritless, protracted, and expensive libel suit against Ehrenfeld in a country with plaintiff-friendly libel laws had not written, published or marketed the book.
A serial suer, Mahfouz had used the British law and courts to silence many Western and American writers and publishers. None fought back but Dr. Ehrenfeld, who countersued Mahfouz in NY federal court. Her lawsuit led New York State legislators to pass the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, the impetus for Rep. Cohen’s bill.
Rep. Peter King, who previously initiated other federal legislation on this issue agrees with Dr. Ehrenfeld, stating that although he support H.R. 6146, “this bill does not go far enough nor does it resolve the problem of ‘libel tourism.'” Rep. Cohen, the author of H.R. 6146, also acknowledged that his bill is not enough to “address libel tourism,” and stated on the floor of the House that he is “committed to working with Mr. King to push for a public hearing… which advances additional measures to address libel tourism.”
Indeed, the ACLU, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the PEN American Center, the Families of the 9/11 victims, and many others support the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter, Joseph Lieberman and Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Peter King.
Ehrenfeld hopes the 111th Congress will hold hearings to address the additional measures necessary to protect American writers, and to deter attempts to silence the freedom of the press in the U.S.
Ehrenfeld is the Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy and the Center for the Study of Corruption & the Rule of Law. She is an authority on the shadowy movement of funds through international banking systems and governments to fund terrorism. Dr. Ehrenfeld has testified before Congressional Committees, as well as the European Parliament, and consulted government agencies such as the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.