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Senate urged to pass legislation shielding American authors from foreign court libel judgements

(Freedom House/IFEX) - The following is a 30 September 2008 Freedom House press release:

U.S. Senate Urged to Quickly Counter Threat to Free Speech

Washington, September 30, 2008 - The U.S. Senate should pass legislation immediately that shields American authors from libel judgments handed down in countries with less free speech guarantees than the United States. Freedom House applauds the House of Representatives for passing a bill over the weekend that provides this essential protection.

"We need legislation now that prevents foreign court judgments from further undermining our First Amendment rights," said Karin Karlekar, editor of Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey. "These lawsuits aim to silence journalists, authors, academics and other watchdogs who dare to write about critical issues such as terrorism financing and corruption."

The House bill, H.R. 6146, effectively addresses the issue of libel tourism - the practice of suing an author in another country that has lower standards for determining libel and weaker free speech protections - by preventing American courts from enforcing foreign libel judgments. In recent years, numerous American authors have had to defend themselves from lawsuits filed by powerful claimants from authoritarian countries in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

The United Kingdom is a preferred destination for these claimants because of the country's relatively lax libel laws. British courts will try cases for any publications sold in the country, including via the internet, regardless of where they are published. These cases have had a chilling effect on authors, with many thinking twice about writing on controversial topics or choosing not to sell their books abroad.

Libel tourism is part of a larger global trend in which countries are increasingly using punitive laws to punish journalists and authors. The trend is now a key factor hampering press freedom worldwide, according to Freedom of the Press, Freedom House's annual press freedom survey.

"U.S. legislation against libel tourism is an important step, but it is by no means an exhaustive solution to this global threat," said Karlekar. "Freedom House implores the international community to work to ensure that authors around the world are not preyed upon by these libel tourists."

For more information on libel tourism, visit: "Libel Tourism: A Growing Threat to Free Speech"
http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/LibelTourismGrowingThreat.pdf

Freedom House is an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.

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