Former Union minister MJ Akbar on Tuesday told a Delhi court that journalist Priya Ramani did not make defamatory comments about him for public good but out of vengeance, PTI reported. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in October 2018, following which he sued her.
Akbar made the statement before the additional chief metropolitan magistrate Vishal Pahuja, through his lawyer during the final arguments in a criminal defamation complaint filed by him against Ramani.
Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, argued that Ramani’s allegations against the politician – made in a tweet and subsequently in a Vogue article – were widely shared and disseminated. She said Ramani’s statements were per se defamatory and lowered his reputation.
“Even Ramani realised that what she tweeted tarnished Akbar’s reputation,” Luthra claimed, according to Bar and Bench. “Ramani did something incorrect by deleting her Twitter account, so that no one could understand her statements.”
The advocate added that Ramani referred to Akbar as a “predator” without due care or caution. “Reckless statements against Akbar were put in a public place without any care or caution… The per se effect of Ramani’s statements was defamatory, damaging the reputation of Akbar,” she said.
The counsel claimed that Ramani wrote a “fictitious piece” in the Vogue magazine in the context of the #MeToo movement with a “mala fide intention” as she intended to “tarnish the reputation of Akbar”. “Ramani didn’t produce any landline records, parking receipts, no CCTV footage, nothing,” Luthra contended. “She didn’t produce any evidence to prove her story.”
The court then ended the day’s hearing and Luthra will resume the rebuttal arguments at 10.30 on Wednesday.
Luthra had concluded her final submissions on behalf of Akbar in February this year, following which senior advocate Rebecca John had concluded her submissions on behalf of Ramani on September 19.
Shortly before the Delhi court was slated to hear Luthra’s rebuttal for Akbar, the judge wondered if the court had the jurisdiction to decide on cases filed by public representatives or if it could only hear cases against such representatives. The development came in the backdrop of a Supreme Court order to expedite pending cases involving legislators.
However, a district and sessions judge on October 22 said the Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate could continue hearing the case as it involved an MP and it should not matter whether it was filed by them or against them.
Ramani had first made the 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 during the #MeToo movement, in a series of tweets. Soon after this, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career.
The Patiala House Court had on January 2019 issued summons to Ramani in the defamation case. In February 2019, she was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. In May 2019, Akbar had denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He denied all information about the meeting that Ramani had narrated.
Ramani told the court in Delhi on September 19 that she deserved to be acquitted, because she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment. Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John, while submitting her final arguments in the case, said that Ramani had proved her allegations against Akbar with solid evidence, which were also confirmed by multiple women.
Ramani’s lawyer also responded to Akbar’s accusation that her tweets had tarnished the reputation he built through his work. “Hard work is not exclusive to MJ Akbar,” she quoted Ramani as saying. “This case is not about how hard he worked.. My case is that before I met him, I admired him as a journalist. But his conduct with me and the shared experience of other women do not justify this complaint.”