New York state fought back today against terrorism apologists who have used foreign libel laws to silence opponents as Gov. David Paterson signed a law granting protections under the First Amendment. The Libel Terrorism Protection Act was inspired by New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld's battle with a British court over her 2003 book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Funded and How to Stop It."
New York officials said the law will make it more difficult for "libel tourists" to threaten authors and publishers with foreign libel suits. It bars enforcement of a libel judgment in foreign courts unless a New York court determines the decision is consistent with the free speech and free press protections guaranteed by the U.S. and New York state constitutions. "New Yorkers must be able to speak out on issues of public concern without living in fear that they will be sued outside the United States, under legal standards inconsistent with our First Amendment rights," said Paterson. "This legislation will help ensure the freedoms enjoyed by New York authors."
Britain's libel law has been used in a number of instances against writers who speak out against international terrorism. As WND reported, Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz filed suit against Ehrenfeld after she named him in her New York-published book as a funder of Islamic charities that supported terrorism. She asserts there are more than 10 lawsuits outstanding by numerous plaintiffs in the U.S. claiming billions of dollars in damages from Mahfouz's alleged involvement in financing the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center. Only 23 copies of her book were sold in the United Kingdom, but Mahfouz took advantage of the country's liberal laws and filed the suit there, charging damage to his reputation.
The British court issued a $225,000 judgment against Ehrenfeld after she refused to appear, on advice of her counsel in Britain. The author then sought a judgment in New York declaring the British decision unenforceable in the U.S., because her work is protected under American law. The New York Court of Appeals ruled Ehrenfeld's suit could not be heard under state law unless legislature made changes. Paterson, who succeeded disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer last month, urged the federal government to take similar action.
"Although New York state has now done all it can to protect our authors while they live in New York, they remain vulnerable if they move to other states, or if they have assets in other states," said Paterson. "We really need Congress and the president to work together and enact federal legislation that will protect authors throughout the country against the threat of foreign libel judgments."
State Sen. Dean G. Skelos noted "the truth is a critically-important component of the war on terror." "American authors, like Dr. Ehrenfeld, who expose terrorist networks and their financiers should not be subject to intimidation and lawsuits in foreign courts designed to circumvent our First Amendment rights," he said. "This is important legislation, and I thank Governor Paterson for signing it into law."
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