Former Union Minister M J Akbar told a Delhi court Friday that journalist Priya Ramani’s accusations of sexual misconduct against him in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2018 were “figment of her imagination” and caused him “great humiliation” and “irreparably damaged his reputation”.
Mr. Akbar made the allegations before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja through his lawyer during the final hearing of a private criminal defamation complaint filed by him against Ms. Ramani after he was accused on social media at the height of the #MeToo campaign in India.
On Friday (6.2.2020), MJ Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra presented her final arguments on the BJP leader’s defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani. Neither Ramani nor her lawyer, Rebecca John, attended the afternoon hearing in the Rouse Avenue court of Additional Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja. Akbar didn’t turn up either. Reading out Akbar’s complaint against Ramani, Luthra argued that the allegations made by the journalist cast a shadow on the reputation of her client and tarnished his career of 44 years. “The salacious and malicious statements made by Ramani are ex facie defamatory,” she said. “They have caused irreparable and great damage to Akbar’s reputation.” Mr. Akbar made the allegations before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja through his lawyer during the final hearing of a private criminal defamation complaint filed by him against Ms. Ramani after he was accused on social media at the height of the #MeToo campaign in India. Mr. Akbar resigned as Union Minister on October 17, 2018. Ms. Ramani in 2018 accused Mr. Akbar of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago when he was a journalist. Since then, several women have come up with accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Mr Akbar while they were working as journalists under him. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Mr Akbar, said that the complaints should have been raised then and there before the appropriate authority.
While referring to an article written by Ms. Ramani, which allegedly termed Mr. Akbar as a “predator” and a “pervert”, she said the allegations were “false narrative”.
“This has caused great humiliation to Mr. Akbar and his reputation has been irreparably damaged. He developed a reputation and that’s why he was a Minister (of State) of External Affairs. He wrote extensively on South Asia. In that sense, the country needs such people,” she said.
The Court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate while hearing final arguments in the criminal defamation case brought by MJ Akbar by former External Affairs Minister against journalist Priya Ramani for allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him.
Ramani had leveled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, who subsequently resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs and filed a defamation case against her. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, was making her final arguments before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Paruja. The arguments could not be concluded and will be taken up on February 28. So far, the prosecution and defence have both produced their evidence in court. Lawyers from both sides will be submitting their final arguments before the court reserves its judgment. Luthra started off her arguments by reading Akbar’s original complaint to the judge and added: “Unless the person has some defence, on the face of it, it (the allegation) is defamatory. When a person says I have an M J Akbar story and you don’t name him… why name him now? What could be the public good you are doing? Unless you are jumping onto the bandwagon… There was no reason for her (Ramani) to keep quiet all this time. Why are you speaking up now? Are you speaking up genuinely? Are you speaking up because #MeToo has come or because he has become a minister?” Through the course of the hearing, Luthra read out excerpts of Ramani’s article from Vogue magazine, which she said was generic in nature and never clarified that the whole piece was not about Akbar. Reading further from Akbar’s complaint, she added: “This is not a communication… in the interest to warn someone. It is deliberately malafide, malicious… Can you ask a man to answer for these incidents that you allege took place 25 years ago. Did anybody understand that it was a generic article? Did anybody understand it that way? Did my wife or witnesses understand it that way?” Luthra went on to say that if Ramani had a grievance, she should have raised it with the concerned authorities. “Can you tarnish anybody’s life without evidence? That person will not have phone records, registers, you can actually say anything. There has to be some fairness. We can’t be a social media country,” Luthra told the court. Luthra also questioned if Ramani could call Akbar a predator. She read out the definition of a predator and a pervert to the ACMM and turned to the original complaint: “My readers do not understand that only one line pertains to me. What sense does a layman get? It says that the man is a predator, a pervert, and it is about MJ Akbar,” she read. Luthra also referred to subsequent tweets by Ramani pertaining to Akbar’s resignation. “You want him to resign from the government. This is what you say is your victory. What is your motive? It is just to tarnish his image, bring down the person,” Luthra stipulated. Wrapping up her arguments for the day, Luthra also told the court that Akbar had built his reputation over years and wrote extensively on south Asia. “In that sense, the country needs such people,” she said.
Matter adjourned for the day. Next date of hearing – 28th and 29th of February ,Geeta Luthra will take two days to complete her submissions.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje