Journalist Priya Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John on Saturday began her final arguments in the defamation case filed by former Union minister M J Akbar by telling the court that her alleged defamatory tweets and article was her truth, and that it is not defamation to impute anything for public good.
The hearing took place over video conferencing. John’s arguments could not be completed, and the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja will hear it next on September 8.
Ramani had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, who subsequently resigned as Union Minister of State for External Affairs in October 2018 and filed a defamation case against her.
John began by reading through the definition of defamation under IPC Section 499: “The offence of defamation is not an absolute offence. It is a justifiable offence. While dealing with this case and the ingredients of this offence, (the court) must look at it differently from all other offences in IPC.”
She then read out Ramani’s statement made to the court, “Yes, I have a defence to make. I plead truth as my defence made in good faith, in public interest, and for public good. I will prove my defence during trial.”
John made the court go through several exceptions to Section 499, and argued, “It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it be for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for public good is a question of fact…. Priya Ramani’s alleged defamatory tweets linked with her ‘Vogue’ article…was her truth.”
John read out excerpts from Akbar’s statements to the court in which he had denied knowledge of allegations other women had made against him, or that of the Me Too movement. She submitted before the court, “Questions pertaining to the tweets, articles, allegations made by other women besides Priya Ramani during the exact same time were known to Mr Akbar, as he himself had exhibited a Firstpost (website) article containing a detailed account of them or at least their tweets. Whether he accepts them, whether he contests them is a separate story. I am talking about knowledge. I am talking about the fact that the complainant has himself proved an article which established that several women had come out and made allegations of sexual harassment against him.”
Reading out the statement pertaining to Pallavi Gogoi’s allegation of rape against Akbar, made in an article in the ‘Washington Post’, and Akbar’s statement released to news agency ANI, John said, “What Mr Akbar says with relation to Pallavi Gogoi’s allegations is not central to this case. But it establishes a pattern of behaviour…the fact that the complainant issued a statement, his wife issues a statement, he called it a consensual relationship and I have brought it out there was a substantial age and power differential between the two and that she was a subordinate at the workplace.”
John also told the court that Ramani had indeed written the ‘Vogue’ article, which she has owned on several occasions during the course of hearing.
The counsel said, “Portions marked in inverted commas are portions extracted. While I am not denying I wrote the Vogue article, there is a contestation on what portions related to Mr Akbar and what portion did not relate to him. The notice framed against me erroneously assumes that the entire article is related to Mr Akbar.
“I am saying the first four paragraphs alone related to Mr Akbar; the rest of the paragraphs related to other bosses, and I have sourced portions in inverted commas from these other articles.”