Journalist Crusades Against Saudi Billionaire as She Pushes for Libel Terrorism Protection Act—aka Rachel’s Law
|Alyssa A. Lappen||May 19th 2008|
Americans complain of the billions the Saudis spend in the U.S. to buy influence, strategic assets—and even media outlets.
Now, the public can benefit from the New York Libel Terrorism Protection Act, aka “Rachel’s Law,” unanimously passed in the New York State’ Assembly and Senate—and signed by Governor David Paterson on April 30th.
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has now proposed the Freedom of Speech Protection Act (H.R. 5814). On May 7, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) unveiled their Free Speech Protection Act of 2008.
With very little financial support, and a bare trickle of major U.S. media coverage, a lone individual has waged the fight to protect U.S. free press rights from interference by bogus libel suits and rulings in foreign courts.
New York-based investigative journalist Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld countersued Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in U.S. federal court, after he sued her in London in January 2004 following U.S. publication of her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop.
Dr. Ehrenfeld refused to acknowledge British court jurisdiction over a book written and published in the U.S. The London High Court awarded Mahfouz a default judgment, $225,900 in damages and expenses, enjoined British publication of Funding Evil and ordered Dr. Ehrenfeld to publicly apologize and destroy the book—all of which she refused to do. She is now effectively barred from traveling to Great Britain.
British law includes nothing like U.S. First Amendment protections for a free press. Rather, its libel laws favor the plaintiff. Dr. Ehrenfeld therefore asked a New York federal court to grant a declarative judgment, and to find the British Mahfouz default judgment a violation of her First Amendment rights—and unenforceable here.
In Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court), however, ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to protect Dr. Ehrenfeld from Mahfouz’ British High Court default judgment. If allowed to stand, this could undermine the ability of American journalists to expose financial and logistical networks backing terrorism. If U.S. courts lack jurisdiction to protect U.S. journalists writing and publishing—on U.S. soil—the First Amendment will lose its enormous traction.
“Rachel’s Law” corrects the problem in New York, by declaring overseas defamation judgments unenforceable there—unless the foreign jurisdiction provides, in substance and application, the same free speech protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The law enables New York residents and publishers to have their day in court.
The law won’t have teeth until it is tested. Dr. Ehrenfeld now hopes to return to court to win a U.S. federal declarative judgment against the Saudi libel terrorist. She cannot do so, however, unless Americans fund this ripe opportunity to stop Saudis from silencing the U.S. media. She is seeking tax-deductible contributions to the legal defense fund at the non-profit 501(c) American Center for Democracy that Dr. Ehrenfeld heads (http://www.acdemocracy.org).