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New York to Protect Writers from Foreign Libel Suits

New York Governor David Paterson signed into law yesterday the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” according to the New York Sun. This bill, for which Harvey and his colleague Samuel A. Abady have lobbied in the Boston Globe and the New York Post, is the direct result of the recent censorship of New York journalist and counterterrorism expert Rachel Ehrenfeld. In her book, Funding Evil, Ehrenfeld named Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz as a leading financier of Islamic terrorism based on an exhaustive review of government documents. While Ehrenfeld’s scholarship, particularly her characterizations of Muslim charities, are controversial, there’s no doubt that her attack on bin Mahfouz is fully protected speech and does not even approach the threshold set for libel by New York Times v. Sullivan. Nonetheless, bin Mahfouz has been able to effectively muzzle Ehrenfeld by suing her in England, where 23 copies of her book were ordered online and where libel laws are much more plaintiff-friendly. Like most journalists, Ehrenfeld could not afford to battle a litigious billionaire in a foreign country. She had no choice but to accept a declaratory judgment that she pay $225,000 in damages and pulp remaining copies of Funding Evil. The “Libel Terrorism Protect Act” now allows her to challenge the British court’s judgment on American soil, where she will enjoy the full protections of the First Amendment. Let’s hope that civil libertarian groups around the country understand the importance of rallying their state legislatures to pass similar legislation

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