Update on Rachel Ehrenfeld, Ph.D. and her successful defense of free speech by holding to her principles that caused the passing of laws in numerous states to protect American writers and publishers from libel charges brought in Europe, where free speech is not a right or as protected as in the United States. We first covered her fight to protect free speech by posting a letter from Dr. Ehrenfeld titled A Letter from Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld and followed up with another article titled The Libel Terrorism Protection Act Passes in New York State covering the results of Dr. Ehrenfeld’s efforts. We are now following up on Dr. Ehrenfeld’s recognition and being awarded the Sappho Award for Free Speech. Following the letter is her acceptance speech given at the ceremony in Copenhagen. We would like once again to salute Dr. Ehrenfeld for her strong leadership in the cause of universal protection for free speech rights.
On April 2, 2011 the International Free Press Society, based in Copenhagen, awarded me the 2011 the Sappho Award for Free Speech. The award recognized my contribution to the preservation of free speech, made through the enactment of the federal SPEECH Act of 2010, “Rachel’s Law” in New York State, and similar anti-libel tourism legislation passed in several other states. The enactment of the laws in the United States is also spurring libel law reform in England, and I hope it will have a wider impact in other European countries as well.
Please see below the speech given at the award ceremony held in Copenhagen on April 2, 2011. Forward it to your friends.
Free speech is a right, not a privilege. We must continue to fight together to ensure that it is not taken from us.
Join the American Center for Democracy’s efforts to strengthen our freedoms in the United States and the world over.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, Ph.D.
Director, American Center for Democracy
Free Speech in a Non-Free World
I am honored and privileged to accept this award from the Free Press Society, a dedicated and effective warrior in the battle to protect our right for free expression. Special thanks to Lars Hedegaard, who helps to uphold this freedom in Denmark by fighting to ensure that reporters can speak the truth without fear of censorship and intimidation by those abusing the country’s inadequate libel and hate speech and hate crimes laws.
These laws are written so broadly as to allow a suit by almost anyone who claims that he or she feels insulted or intimidated by a public statement. The truth does not matter. The prosecution is subjective and the judgment can be entirely based on the plaintiff’s misguided perception. Many European countries have similar low standards for defamation suits. Speaking one’s mind risks civil and criminal suits. The combination of the European Union’s decision in November 2008 to criminalize Hate Speech and Hate Crimes and the draconian defamation laws in member states facilitated the triumph of censorship and the suppression of free speech.
I am fully aware of the threats to my financial and even my physical well being should I say something that some Danes, Europeans, or even foreigners could interpret as offensive. Indeed, your laws have forced me to limit my remarks today. So I invite you all to look at the website of the New York based American Center for Democracy (www.acdemocray.org), a not-for-profit organization that I head, to get a fuller perspective on the issues we cover and the causes we promote to protect our freedoms, including free expression.
I have devoted the past six years to defeating libel tourism and its chilling effects on free speech in the United States follow the American tradition of treasuring, fighting and protecting freedom.
The American colonies rebelled against British Empire to secure liberties denied them by the monarchy and the Church. The United States battled tyranny and oppression in various forms over centuries, as have some European countries. Yet in the twenty-first century, many in Europe and the U.S. have lost the appreciation for the liberties that set them apart from the rest of the world – liberties that contributed to the establishment of free, liberal, and developed societies. This seems to be the prevailing attitude in Denmark, Belgium, France, and a different former British colony, Canada, to name but a few places.
Over the years England, in particular, has become a libel suit hotbed where wealthy plaintiffs from anywhere in the world with even the most tenuous links to England could obtain a judgment against writers from other countries, no matter how carefully the work in question has been documented. Known as a “a town called Sue,” London has become the Mecca for libel tourism.
Soon after September 11, 2001, Saudi and other Middle Eastern financiers of al Qaeda and other radical Muslim terrorist organizations started exploiting plaintiff-friendly British libel laws to silence the Western media from exposing their activities. The financiers’ tremendous wealth and Britain’s speech-suppressive legal framework created a double-pronged weapon of intimidation that succeeded probably beyond what were even the plaintiffs’ expectations.
In addition to deterring the media from exposing terrorist financing, this form of lawfare was so effective that the press refrained from identifying it. This kept the public ignorant of the media’s submission to forces determined to destroy Western freedoms.
I discovered this impact in 2004, when I was first threatened with a libel suit in London by a Saudi terror financier, who I had named in my book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. He chose London’s High Court to sue me and more than forty writers, many Americans included, in London, because he could have never succeeded to prove his innocence under American libel laws.
The problem has gotten so bad, that in August 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Committee acknowledged it in its assessment of British libel law. The Committee wrote that it was “concerned that the State party’s practical application of the law of libel has served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work, including through the phenomenon known as “libel tourism.” The Committee then warned that unless England reformed its libel law, the “State party’s unduly restrictive libel law will affect freedom of expression world-wide on matters of valid public interest.”
Since my work focuses on exposing the means used to suppress our freedoms, I recognized that it was important to stop this form of oppression. My actions following the Saudi suit in London led to the passage of the Anti-Libel Terrorism Protection Act, also known as “Rachel’s Law,” by the New York legislature in May 2008.
Since of May 2008, Rachel’s Law has protected New York-based authors and publishers against the scourge of libel tourism. It has since served as the basis for similar legislation in seven other states, and more importantly, for the federal SPEECH Act that was passed by the U.S. Congress unanimously, and the only law to gain bipartisan support in the 111th Congress. The SPEECH Act drew the support of a national coalition of most major U.S. free speech organizations, headed by the Association of American Publishers. The SPEECH Act provides American writers and publishers protections from the enforcement of foreign libel judgments from countries with lesser protection for free expression than those provided by the First Amendment. It was signed into law in August 2010.
While the SPEECH Act was enacted to protect Americans right for free expression, it has also spurred legal reform in Britain. The British Parliament is now considering a libel law reform bill, which reflects the American notions of free speech protections. Significantly, it establishes truth and honest opinion as defenses to a defamation suit. The bill will also curtail libel tourism by only allowing suits to be brought by plaintiffs connected to Britain through residence or if they can prove that the alleged defamation affected them there.
I hope the bill passes swiftly and that other European countries soon follow suit in liberalizing their defamation laws. However, Europeans’ free speech rights will remain obstructed until European hate speech and hate crimes laws are also reformed.
I wish the Danish Free Press Society succeeds in its efforts to reform Denmark’s libel, hate speech and hate crime laws that now hinder your free expression. Some of you have stood up to oppression before and I hope that you soon prevail and regain your right to speak freely.
The preservation and advancement of free societies, our Western values and the integrity of our respective democracies depends upon our ability to freely investigate, publish, and exchange information and opinion.
My experience with libel tourism strengthened my appreciation of how fundamental and valuable is the right to free expression.
Advancing the protection of freedom of speech in the United States is one of the proudest accomplishments of my career. I am confident that over the next few years, together with the American Center for Democracy, we will be as successful in promoting effective solutions to the challenges facing the liberties, security, and economic well-being of Western democratic societies the world over.
We should remember that free speech is a right, not a privilege. Therefore we must be alert to prevent any attempt to take it away from us.
Beyond the Cusp