‘Rachel’s law’ protects free expression
02 Apr 08

The New York State Legislature has passed a law protecting American journalists from defamation lawsuits brought against them overseas. The Libel Terrorism Protection Act, known as ‘Rachel’s Law’, was introduced after Rachel Ehrenfeld was successfully sued for libel in the UK by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi businessman she alleged had financed terrorism.

The law was proposed after a counter-suit brought by Ehrenfeld in New York State, alleging that bin Mahfouz’s suit was purely designed to suppress her claims and that the UK judgment was incompatible with her constitutional right to free speech, collapsed after the court found it did not have jurisdiction on the matter. The new law provides that New York courts can assume jurisdiction over anyone who brings a defamation lawsuit anywhere against a New York resident, and disallow such decisions’ enforcement unless it can be demonstrated that the foreign law offers the same freedom of speech guarantees offered by the US Constitution.

By Jo Glanville

Jo Glanville is editor of Looking for an enemy: eight essays on antisemitism (Short Books) and Qissat: short stories by Palestinian women (Telegram/Saqi Books). She is a former editor of Index on Censorship.