Journalist Priya Ramani recorded her statements on Friday before a Delhi court in the criminal defamation case filed against her by former Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar. On August 2, the Delhi High Court had completed the cross-examination of witnesses appearing for Akbar.
Ramani had first made allegations about an incident of sexual harassment by an acclaimed newspaper editor in an article in Vogue India in 2017. She identified Akbar as that editor in October 2018.
Ramani told Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal that her tweets pertained to Akbar, Bar and Bench reported. “I spoke the truth,” she said. “My tweet was not malafide, in bad faith, deeply offensive, maligning and spun out of lies.”
Akbar during the third round of cross-examination in the case had claimed that it would be wrong to suggest that Ramani’s allegations “were meant to raise awareness regarding the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace”.
Akbar had said he chose to resign as the minister of state and decided to “seek justice in his personal capacity” since the allegation was made in a personal capacity. He said news articles were written based on Ramani’s tweets, which amounted to “aggravated defamation”.
Ramani said Akbar’s complaint was false and baseless and maintained that his reputation was not affected because of them. “It is false that my tweets affected Akbar’s reputation,” she said according to Bar and Bench. “It is false that MJ Akbar has an impeccable reputation”.
The journalist said was she being singled out by Akbar and added that she did not question Akbar’s reputation as a writer. She clarified that her tweets were related to “being sexually harassed and his conduct as an editor of a daily newspaper.”
She also said while her article began with her experience with Akbar, the rest of it was not about him. “The articles were in fact based on the collective account of many women, including me, who spoke out about their experiences at the hands of Akbar,” Ramani said.
She told the court that MJ Akbar’s witnesses – Sunil Gujral, Joyeeta Basu, Veenu Sandal, Habib Rehman and Tapan Chaki – were all his “all close personal or professional confidants”. Ramani highlighted that it was her responsibility to speak as a senior journalist after many women in the media started speaking up during the #MeToo movement.
“It is unfortunate that women who had faced sexual harassment at the workplace must now defend themselves in criminal proceedings for speaking the truth,” she said.
On asked why the case was filed specifically against her by Akbar, Ramani said: “This is a false and malicious case filed to create a chilling effect against women who spoke out about their experience of sexual harassment at the hands of Mr Akbar.” She said it was an attempt to intimidate her and divert the attention away from the serious allegations of sexual misconduct raised against the former Union minister by other women.
The matter will next be taken up again on September 7.
Soon after Priya Ramani’s allegations last year, around 20 more women had accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career. In February, Ramani was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. On May 20, Akbar had denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He refuted all information about the meeting that Ramani had narrated, such as that he sang songs to her and that he asked her invasive questions.
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