Thursday, June 23, 2005

London "libel tourism"

An article on the Accuracy in Media website notes that Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a respected US author and scholar was sued for libel in a London court. Dr. Ehrenfeld "boycotted" the trial, and has stated that she "has no intention of complying with the court order and has chosen instead to fight for her First Amendment rights by suing the billionaire in New York. She wants the court to find the London judgment to be unenforceable in the U.S., and to reiterate that publication of her book may continue in the U.S. because it is constitutionally protected speech. What Ehrenfeld is seeking is a legal remedy to vindicate her rights and protect her integrity and reputation as a writer."

Here are some excerpts from the article in which Prof. Lipstadt's successful defeat of Irving's suit is cited:

AIM Report: Saudi Billionaire Threatens U.S. Author
June 22, 2005


Ehrenfeld's work, as well as that of other authors, is now at risk because of a lawsuit filed in London, the world capital for what's now called "libel tourism." At stake is nothing less than freedom of the press here in the United States and the First Amendment right of journalists to cover matters affecting U.S. national security and survival. This case involves another billionaire, Khalid Salim a Bin Mahfouz of Saudi Arabia.

Ehrenfeld's saga began with the publishing of her 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. This, Ehrenfeld's fifth book, examined the alleged involvement of Bin Mahfouz and his relatives and others in the funding of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist entities. Bin Mahfouz, who denies any role in sponsoring or financing terrorism, responded by filing a lawsuit against Ehrenfeld in London, claiming defamation.


Under English law, however, the plaintiff does not need to prove malice or negligence. The burden of proof falls upon the defendant who must prove that all his/her statements are in fact true, not just that they were reported in good faith. Such a legal process is unthinkable in the U.S., where the burden of proof is upon a public plaintiff who must prove that what was reported about him/her was demonstrably false, malicious and/or reckless.

Bin Mahfouz, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.8 billion, has yet to lose a case in the London courts. Ehrenfeld said that other publishers have capitulated to his legal threats because surrendering is cheaper than launching a defense.

Ehrenfeld boycotted the London court proceedings, was found guilty, and ordered to pay £60,000 (US $109,470) as a "down payment" on damages. (Media erroneously reported the figure as a final fine of £30,000.) The London Times reported the judge as saying it was "false" to say that Bin Mahfouz financed or supported al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.


London has become notorious for these lawsuits. Perhaps the most notorious is the legal action filed against author Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Lipstadt named David Irving as a holocaust denier who deliberately distorted historical facts in her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." Irving sued Lipstadt in London. And because Lipstadt had to prove her statements were true in the British courts, she had to therefore prove the Holocaust happened, that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz, and so on. She won the case but the legal proceedings cost her over $1 million. The grueling yet triumphant saga is the subject of her new book "History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving."

Professor Lipstadt can now post this notice on her website without fear of being sued: "The book is Lipstadt's account of her successful defense against Holocaust denier, David Irving, who sued her for libel for calling him a denier." At a recent celebration held in Lipstadt's honor, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, said, "[W]hat was going to be on trial was not Deborah Lipstadt per se but the Holocaust. For generations it would shape the way people view the Holocaust. This was not her battle alone."

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