Former Union minister MJ Akbar on Monday told a court in Delhi that journalist Priya Ramani called him “media’s biggest sexual predator” without any basis or investigation, reported PTI.
Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in 2018, when the #MeToo movement began in India. After this, Akbar resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani.
During the final submissions in the case on Monday, Akbar made the remarks through his counsel Geeta Luthra, who referred to Ramani’s tweet, in which she accused Akbar. “If we look at what has been said, a conclusion is drawn that this is a predator,” the lawyer said, according to PTI. “On what basis? All these averments [in the article] are based without any investigation or basis.”
Akbar’s counsel said the allegation was like a trial outside the court. “Due process is in a court of law,” Luthra added. “One cannot become law onto oneself. This [the tweet] was incorrect.” The senior lawyer also accused the journalist of not making truthful submissions in court.
“I asked did you issue any corrigendum,” Akbar’s lawyer said, according to Bar and Bench. “She said yes. I said show. She said I would show on the next date. This was not necessary .. she knew she had not issued any corrigendum.”
The lawyer made the remarks while reading out Ramani’s tweet on Akbar’s resignation. He had filed the complaint against Ramani on October 15, 2018, and resigned as Union minister on October 17, 2018.
The former Union minister’s lawyer recalled that Ramani had said during a hearing that her defence is truth. “...but she knows it is not the truth,” the lawyer added. “Only in cross examination she says it was not the truth. It shows her credibility as a witness.”
Luthra told the court that repeating lies by 10 people does not make something true. “Being a journalist, she could have independently verified,” the lawyer said, reported Bar and Bench. “The defence is that there is no practice of giving corrigendum and that he subsequently resigned. You on oath said that you said something [corrigendum] under the tweet. You now can’t come to court and say your defence is truth.”
Following this, the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey adjourned for the day. The matter will be taken up again on January 7.
During a hearing on December 24, Akbar denied meeting Ramani at a hotel, where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. Akbar’s lawyer had said that Ramani had been unable to provide any proof of her meeting with him.
Ramani has maintained that there was a “vacuum in law” at the time of the incident, and that she had no platform to share her experiences. The journalist has repeatedly said that she spoke out against Akbar in good faith.
On December 22, Akbar told the court that Ramani should have taken legal recourse instead of accusing him of sexual misconduct on social media. However, Ramani’s lawyer on December 18 told the court that 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.
In November, 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 Ravindra Kumar Pandey.
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 2019, 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.
The journalist 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.”