A Delhi Court Tuesday summoned journalist Priya Ramani as an accused in the criminal defamation complaint filed by former union minister of state M J Akbar, saying “reputation is not only the salt of life but also the purest treasure and the most precious perfume of life”.
Observing that a “prima facie” offence of defamation has been committed by Ramani against Akbar, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal said: “Accordingly, Ms Priya Ramani is summoned for commission of offence of defamation under Section 500 (punishment for defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)”.
The court sought Ramani’s personal appearance on February 25. She now has to appear before a trial court or can challenge the order before a higher court. After the court order, Ramani tweeted, “Time to tell our side of the story.”
She told The Indian Express: “Akbar and his witnesses have made their statements to the court. Now it’s the turn of my side to tell their stories. We have and need only one defence: the truth. One of the country’s best lawyers, Rebecca John, is fighting my case pro bono. And the support from the Indians, both men and women, has been overwhelming,”
In a series of tweets in October, when the #MeToo movement swept across the country, Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment and misconduct along with several other women. After resigning as union minister on October 17 last year, Akbar filed a defamation lawsuit against Ramani.
To establish that Ramani’s tweets and publication resulted in his reputation being tarnished, Akbar recorded the statement of six witnesses before the court. The six witnesses, who were closely associated with Akbar at a professional and personal level, have deposed that they were “shocked” and “dismayed” after reading the tweets and that Akbar’s reputation has been lowered in their eyes.
A Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, Akbar has called the allegations false and imaginary.
In his statement recorded in the court on October 31 last year, he had said that immediate damage has been caused to him due to the scurrilous, concocted and false allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him.
“I was attacked in my personal capacity about alleged and fabricated non-events allegedly done two decades ago,” he had said in his deposition before the judge to substantiate his charges against the journalist that allegations of “Ms Priya Ramani are not only defamatory but are also false”.
Backing his credentials, witnesses told the court that they had never heard of any complaint against him. Relying on the deposition of the witnesses, ACMM Vishal in his 23-page order said, “Every person has a right to have his reputation preserved inviolate.”
“This right of reputation is acknowledged as an inherent personal right of every person as part of the right of personal security. A good reputation is an element of personal security, and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.”
“The right to free speech and expression similarly is also a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution but this right is subject to the reasonable restrictions imposed by law of defamation…,” the court observed. It also said that reputation is a “revenue generator for the present as well as for the prosperity”.