Journalist Priya Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John told a court in Delhi on Friday that former Union minister MJ Akbar “played a fraud” by not mentioning the accusations of sexual harassment levelled against him by other women and claiming that only her client’s statement defamed him, Bar and Bench reported.

Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in 2018, following which he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a criminal defamation case against her.

John told Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey that 15 women had accused Akbar of sexual harassment by the time he filed a case against Ramani in October 2018. “You are trying to gain an unfair advantage over the other side,” she argued. “The failure of Mr Akbar in mentioning the allegations by other women, and pretending that only Ramani’s statement defamed him.. Mr Akbar has not come to court with clean hands and has played a fraud on the court.”

She added: “An individual who was a senior editor and a minister at that time...Was there no obligation on him to state that there were other allegations of sexual harassment against him? That Priya Ramani was not an isolated incident?”

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John reiterated that Ramani spoke about being sexually harassed for public good, adding that she must be acquitted in the defamation case. “Truth is painful.. but you seek to serve the larger purpose,” she said. “It has not been easy to say all this, it has taken a toll on her [Ramani]. But sometimes, it is cowardly if one does not speak the truth.”

The court will take up the case again on December 22. Last month, Ramani and Akbar had rejected the court’s proposal for mutual settlement in the case. On November 18, the Delhi High Court had transferred Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja, who presided over the case. He was replaced by Pandey.

The case

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 during the #MeToo movement in 2018. Soon after, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career.

The Patiala House Court summoned Ramani as an accused in January 2019 after Akbar filed the defamation case against her. In February 2019, she was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000.

In May, Akbar denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He also dismissed all the information that Ramani provided about the meeting.

Ramani told the Delhi court in September that she deserved to be acquitted as she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment. Her lawyer Rebecca John, while submitting the 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 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 said. “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.”