Comment On "Saying The Unsayable: Revisiting International Censorship, By Arch Puddington And Christopher Walker”

By World Affairs Journal | by Rachel Ehrenfeld, ACD Director
Thursday, December 30th, 2010 @ 8:43PM

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Remarkably, the authors neglected to report on important new legislation to protect U.S. writers’ and publishers’ free speech rights from the threat of “libel tourism.”

On August 10, 2010, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act) of 2010 was signed into law. The SPEECH Act targets the growing phenomenon of libel tourism, in which wealthy foreign plaintiffs exploit claimant-friendly libel laws abroad to sue and silence American researchers, journalists, bloggers, and others for statements published in the United States. After obtaining a favorable verdict, “libel tourists” sometimes seek enforcement of the judgment in the United States in order to collect damages.

HR 2765 was introduced in the House by Representative Steve Cohen, and amended by the Leahy-Sessions SPEECH Act in the Senate. The SPEECH Act is based on New York State’s “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (also known as “Rachel’s Law”). Congress passed the bi-partisan law unanimously, in July 2010. The Act prevents the domestic enforcement of foreign libel judgments that do not meet American standards of due process and free speech protection.

The SPEECH Act marks the culmination of a national campaign I spearheaded following my own experiences with libel tourism. The Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, who sued me in London, had used this tactic to bully more than 40 authors and a publisher into apologies for and retractions of similar revelations. While British libel laws were often used by the rich and famous to silence and intimidate criticism, the Saudi used the British laws and courts as a weapon in the lawfare against the American and Western media, and effectively “chilled” further exposes on Saudi and Gulf funders of terrorism.

I alone refused to acknowledge the British court’s jurisdiction over me as I did not live in England, nor was my book published or marketed there. The English court ruled against me by default, ordering that I pay a hefty fine, apologize, retract my statements and foot Mahfouz’s substantial legal fees. Represented by Daniel Kornstein of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP, I countersued Mahfouz in New York to prevent the enforcement of the default judgment on the grounds that it did not meet the standard of American First Amendment protections for free speech.

When the court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction over Mahfouz, the New York State Legislature, led by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D), and Senator Dean Skelos (R) acted quickly, and passed “Rachel’s Law,” in April 2008, enabling the New York courts to take jurisdiction over foreign libel plaintiffs who sue New York authors and publishers abroad. Since then, seven states, including California, have passed similar protective legislation protecting their residents, and the SPEECH Act, protects all Americans who publish in the U.S. More about my fight for the SPEECH Act is available on www.acdemocracy.org

I would also like to point out that the London barrister Mark Stephens, a friend who now represents Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, does not represent me.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of “Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It,” is director of NYC based American Center for Democracy.


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