Death of a libel tourist

Cover of 'Funding Evil' by Rachel Ehrenfeld via WikipediaThe letters’ page of the Irish Times as often features well-crafted prose and well-argued cases as it does pithily funny remarks and occasionally insane arguments. In any event, a letter often serves either to remind me of an article I had not properly considered, or to bring to my attention a piece I had simply overlooked at the time. There is a letter in today’s Irish Times which serves the latter function, referring to a piece last week which I had missed:

‘Libel tourism’ and free speech

Madam, – As the only American author who stood up to Khalid bin Mahfouz’s campaign to silence American writers and publishers, I would like to note that the Saudi billionaire did not win his many libel lawsuits in the UK on merit, as your newspaper strongly suggests (World News, September 8th). He won because in addition to his unlimited financial resources, he used the plaintiff-friendly British libel laws to intimidate most into submission.

Mr Mahfouz frequently used archaic British libel laws that allow “libel tourism,” as a weapon to silence American publishers and writers in print and on the internet. His passing does not end the threat of libel tourism.

British libel laws dating back to 1849 continue to stifle Americans’ constitutional right to free expression.

Your article didn’t mention that in May 2008 New York State was the first to pass the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, protecting New Yorkers from libel tourists like Mr Mahfouz. 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 Mr Mahfouz’s libel tourism, the bi-partisan Free Speech Protection Act 2009 is now pending in Congress. This bill would protect Americans’ free speech rights from foreign libel judgments that do not provide protection similar to our Constitution, and allow for damages to deter libel tourists.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, PhD (Author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It)
Director, American Center for Democracy,
West 56th Street,
New York,

Bonus links: First, Rossa McMahon has also noticed and commented on Ehrenfeld’s letter. Second, at Index on Censorship, Ehrenfeld has a much longer piece making similar points.