The New York legislature has voted unanimously in favor of the Libel Terrorism Protection Act (A. 9652 and S. 6687), which would protect Americans from defamation judgments rendered abroad when the laws under which they are decided do not protect freedom of speech to the same extent as the First Amendment. The bill was sent to Governor David Paterson for approval. NCAC sent the following letter to Governor Paterson, urging him to sign the bill into law.
April 30, 2008
Governor David A. Paterson
Albany, NY 12224
Re: Libel Terrorism Protection Act (A. 9652 and S. 6687)
Dear Governor Paterson,
The National Coalition Against Censorship strongly supports the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (A. 9652 and S. 6687), which is necessary to protect American authors and journalists from defamation judgments rendered in foreign jurisdictions whose laws do not protect freedom of speech to the same extent as the First Amendment.
In Ehrenfeld v. bin Mafouz, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that it did not have standing to protect Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld from a defamation lawsuit brought in England by Saudi businessman Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz over Ehrenfeld’s book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. This judgment was issued even though Ehrenfeld’s book was published only in the United States.
The United Kingdom has become a forum of choice for plaintiffs alleging defamation because its laws strongly favor such plaintiffs at the expense of the interests of reporters, writers, publishers and the public at large in publicly examining controversial issues and individuals. In effect, plaintiffs like bin Mahfouz can succeed in chilling speech in the United States which would be protected under the First Amendment.
The “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” will make overseas defamation judgments unenforceable in New York State unless the foreign defamation law under which the suit is brought provides the same free speech protections as those guaranteed under the New York and federal constitutions.
We applaud the New York State legislature for taking the initiative to prevent foreign courts from imposing their laws and values outside their own jurisdictions and from undermining our basic constitutional rights. We strongly urge you to join this effort and sign into law this important and ground-breaking legislation, which we hope will become a model for other states.
Joan E. Bertin