Former Union minister MJ Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra told a court in Delhi on Thursday that she was shocked by how journalist Priya Ramani called him a predator with the “power of pen”, Live Law reported.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey was hearing arguments in the criminal defamation case filed against Ramani by Akbar. She 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.
Luthra told the court that that someone’s reputation could be spoiled without any proof just with the “brush of a pen”. She added that being a journalist, Ramani should know the meaning of the words she used. “I am shocked to see how by the power of a pen a person can be called a predator,” she added.
She added that Ramani should have given proof of her allegations against Akbar, according to Bar and Bench. “When you cast an aspersion on someone, you have to show evidence and what investigation you have done,” Luthra said. “I am shocked and scandalised. I’m completely devastated by this that someone can call someone a predator with so much ease.”
Akbar’s lawyer also accused Ramani of creating an imaginary story and added that her pleas were bald and vague. She also pointed out how Ramani had spoken about the sexual harassment allegations years later.
“After 25-30 years, you don’t go to court...you say there was no law,” Luthra said. “What is this law which was not present since 1860? Or when case was filed against [former Tehelka magazine editor] Tarun Tejpal.”
Luthra said that Akbar had an impeccable reputation before Ramani accused him of sexual harassment. “What I want to show was Ms Ramani maligned Mr Akbar and her tweets and allegations spread like wild fire,” the lawyer added.
On Tuesday, Akbar told the court that Ramani had failed to prove the allegations against him. During another hearing in December, Akbar claimed that he did not meet Ramani at the hotel, where she alleged that he had sexually harassed her.
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 2020 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.
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.