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The Libel Tourist

Synopsis

The Libel Tourist exposes how Saudi banking magnate Khalid bin Mahfouz has exploited Britain’s notoriously accommodating libel laws to challenge any book or article that associates him with financing terrorism—even when such articles or books are not published in Britain. Many American authors and researchers have found themselves silenced and harassed by the Saudi billionaire's transcontinental manipulation of libel laws. By detailing Mahfouz's legal machinations, The Libel Tourist shows how Saudi wealth has ominously joined forces with the British legal system to silence and control the world’s media.

Directed by Jared Lapidus, the short film explains how Mahfouz filed a libel suit against New York criminologist Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of the 2003 book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed—and How to Stop It. The suit was not filed in the United States, where Ehrenfeld’s book was published and sold, but instead in London, where twenty-three copies of the book had been imported from online booksellers. In 2005, an English judge ruled against Ehrenfeld, ordering her to pulp copies of her book and to pay legal fees and damages—despite the fact that nothing in her book about Saudi terror financing was ever disproved.

Since 2002, drawing on his vast fortune, Mahfouz has brought so many lawsuits in Britain, where libel laws heavily favor the accuser, that his actions have earned the country a reputation as a global hub of libel tourism. Every media outlet or publisher Mahfouz has sued, or threatened to sue, has apologized, retracted its publication, and paid fines. Even Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publishing house, capitulated to Mafhouz’s legal aggression when it chose to pulp the 2006 book Alms for Jihad, apologize, and pay damages.

Ehrenfeld, however, has fought back. In The Libel Tourist she speaks about her shocking experience of modern-day book burning by British courts, and describes the First Amendment lawsuit she filed against Mahfouz in an effort to render British libel rulings unenforceable under U.S. law. Her struggles were not in vain: They inspired the New York Assembly and Senate to pass the bipartisan Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which governor David Paterson signed into law in April 2008. Known informally as "Rachel's Law," the legislation is a bold effort to reclaim the American freedoms of speech and freedoms of the press that foreign libel laws threaten to curtail.

Ehrenfeld has graciously acknowledged the vital role The Libel Tourist played in raising public awareness about the complex threats foreign libel suits pose to free speech. “Thor Halvorssen, the Moving Picture Institute, and Jared Lapidus’ film have been most helpful in this important struggle to protect and defend our First Amendment rights,” she says. “The Libel Tourist is a masterpiece, and should be viewed by every American and by freedom-loving people worldwide.”

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