The Delhi High Court on Wednesday adjourned the appeal filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar against a trial court order acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case, reported Bar & Bench.

Akbar had moved the High Court on March 24 against the order acquitting Ramani. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement in India in 2018, after which Akbar had resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a defamation case against the journalist.

On Wednesday, senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing Akbar, called the trial court’s verdict “completely perverse”. She contended that although the trial judge had acknowledged Ramani’s statements in her articles were defamatory in nature, she was acquitted in the defamation case.

Justice Mukta Gupta then decided to adjourn the matter, but Luthra appealed that the case was a special category matter. The judge, however, replied that it was a regular criminal appeal. “There are far more important matters,” he said. “There is no urgency in this matter.”

The High Court then listed the matter for hearing on August 11.

In February, the trial court, while acquitting Ramani, had observed that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser”.

“The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims,” the order had read. “The victims of the sexual abuse not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself [may] have no idea that she is a victim of abuse.”

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A timeline of the case from October 2018

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 October 2018.

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 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.

After her acquittal in February, Ramani had said she felt vindicated on behalf of all the women who spoke out against sexual harassment. “Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves,” she said. “This matter has been about women, it hasn’t been about me. I happened to represent all the women who spoke up...the women who spoke up before me and the women who spoke up after me.”