Editor-turned-politician MJ Akbar on Wednesday appeared before a Delhi court where his statement was recorded in connection with a defamation suit filed by him against journalist Priya Ramani who had accused him of sexual harassment. The court has fixed next date of hearing on November 12.
Akbar began his testimony by telling the court about his journalistic credentials, before venturing on to his political career.
“I’ve filed a criminal defamation complaint against Priya Ramani for a series of tweets that she published. First one came to my notice on my return from my official tour. The tweet had a link to an article in a magazine called vogue,” he said, adding that her tweets dated October 10 and October 13 were picked by various media organisations and did rounds on social media, causing defamation.
“The defamatory/offending portion in particular apart from the rest of the article (in Vogue) is when she (journalist Priya Ramani) referred to me a ‘talented predator’ and an expert on ‘so-and-so’,” Akbar told the court, according to news agency ANI.
Akbar said Ramani had not mentioned his name in an article published in Vogue in 2017. “Clearly she was advised by Vogue that including my name would invite liability,” he said.
Denying all charges, Akbar said the allegations levelled by Ramani are “concocted and false” and have caused “immediate damage” to his reputation.
“The Opening sentence of her tweet explained one anomaly. When the article was first published in Vogue, it didn’t include my name. When asked about it, she said it was because ‘I had done nothing’. Clearly, she was advised by Vogue that including my name would invite liability….There was an immediate damage because of the scurrilous nature of the concocted and false allegations. I was attacked about the alleged and fabricated non-events. I chose to seek justice in my personal capacity without the appurtenance of the office and that’s why I resigned,” ANI quoted him as saying.
The former Union minister had sued Ramani, seeking her prosecution under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC for defamation. On October 17, Akbar had stepped down as a junior foreign minister following a flurry of allegations made against him by at least 15 women, who accused him of sexual misconduct during his stint as the editor of The Asian Age.
Ramani, the first to name him in a Twitter post on October 8, had revealed that an article she had written last year about an editor inviting her to his hotel room for a job interview and asking her to sit on the bed with him, was Akbar. Following this, multiple allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against the former editor. Akbar has denied the charges, terming them “a figment of imagination” and dismissed the #metoo movement as a “viral fever” in a statement. Read | MJ Akbar resigns: It’s vindication, say the women who called him out, but task unfinished
On October 19, the Patiala House court took cognizance of Akbar’s complaint under Section 500 (punishment for defamation) of the IPC. Akbar was not present at the hearing then and was represented by his counsel senior advocate Geeta Luthra and advocate Sandeep Kapur. During the brief hearing, Luthra submitted that Akbar’s “reputation has been tarnished” by the tweets by “Ramani which have been read by family, friends and associates.” “He has received number of calls from different spheres…enquiring of the allegations, causing irreparable loss to reputation he has built in the last 40 years,” Luthra told the court.
Meanwhile, twenty women journalists have urged the court to also consider their testimonies and to be called as witnesses.
Akbar is the first minister in the Modi cabinet to resign over past allegations of sexual harassment. In a statement announcing his resignation, the former journalist said he deemed it “appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, in a personal capacity.”