The Patiala House Court in New Delhi on Thursday began hearing former Union Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar’s defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, Bar and Bench reported. Akbar resigned as Union minister on Wednesday, days after saying he would not quit.
Akbar had filed the case against Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment in a tweet. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra is representing Akbar in the case, ANI reported.
Luthra told the court on Thursday that the tweet was “clearly defamatory”. “It is lowering my reputation,” the counsel said, speaking on Akbar’s behalf. “It is years and years after [when] she claims these events took place.” Luthra also told the court that the tweet had reached a wide audience, based on the number of retweets and likes it received. She argued that in order to take action, it is sufficient to show that the tweet was read by a few “right thinking” persons.
The counsel highlighted Akbar’s professional history to establish his reputation, and said it has now been tarnished by Ramani’s accusations.
“I have gone through the complaint and other documents annexed,” Justice Samar Vishal said in response. “I take cognizance of the offence under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code [defamation].” The judge said Akbar and his witnesses will be examined on October 31 at noon.
In a Vogue India article published last year, Ramani described how an acclaimed newspaper editor called her for a job interview to his “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43. The editor – who she last week claimed was Akbar – did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Though she refused, he drank vodka himself. She alleges that he went on to sing old Hindi songs to her and at one point, asked her to sit close to him.
As many as 17 women have accused Akbar of sexual harassment. On Tuesday, 20 former and current journalists from The Asian Age backed Ramani, and asked the court to consider some of their testimonies about their experiences at his hands.
The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday refused to make a statement on Akbar’s resignation. “The minister has resigned and made a statement, I have nothing else to add,” the ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters at a press conference. “He was a part of an official meeting after he arrived in India, I am not aware of any meeting between him and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.”
Akbar has called all the allegations “wild”, “baseless” and a “sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe”. In a lawsuit, Akbar’s lawyers have claimed that the “false narrative” against Akbar was being circulated in a “motivated manner and for the fulfilment of an agenda”.
On Sunday, Akbar had asked why the sexual harassment allegations against him have only come up before the 2019 elections. “Why has this storm risen a few months before the General Election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge,” he had said.
Since October 5, dozens of women have on social media made allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against various journalists, media professionals and writers in what has come to be called India’s #MeToo movement.