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Monday, March 01, 2021

Akbar Vs Ramani: Timeline of defamation case

Journalist Priya Ramani was acquitted in the defamation case filed against her by a Delhi court today.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 17, 2021 9:42:51 pm
MJ Akbar, Priya RamaniMJ Akbar and Priya Ramani. (File Photo)

A Delhi court Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in M J Akbar’s criminal defamation case against her over the allegations of sexual harassment, saying a woman has the right to put grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades. Reading out the order, the court said that there are social stigma attached with the allegations. Society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims.

The court further informed the parties that an appeal can be filed in case of any grievance and ask Ramani to furnish a bail bond in case an appeal is preferred.

In its verdict, the Delhi court observed that even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser. “Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self confidence,” it said, and asserted that the “right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity.”

Here is the chronology of the case:

October 8, 2018: Ramani names Akbar in a tweet with a reference to a 2017 Vogue India article she had written titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World”.

October 15, 2018: MJ Akbar files a suit against Priya Ramani for for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago when he was a journalist.

October 17, 2018: Akbar resigns as union minister.

January 29, 2019: Delhi court summons Ramani as accused in the case. Court directs her to appear in person on February 25.

February 25, 2019: Delhi court grants bail to Ramani.

May 4, 2019: Akbar states that Ramani’s tweets affected his reputation and her language was “deeply offensive”. He states that her allegations had affected his standing with family and friends.

May 20, 2019: MJ Akbar denies meeting Ramani at the Oberoi Hotel or harassing an intern under him at the Asian Age in 2006-07.

July 6, 2019: Akbar tells court that he aware of the allegations levelled against him by several women and says that he reserves his right to take legal actions against any other person or international publication or web portal in the future. He adds that it is wrong to suggest that he was selective in filing a complaint against Priya Ramani.

July 17, 2019: Two witnesses appearing in support of Akbar state that they were not aware of allegations of sexual misconduct leveled by other women and were aware only of those made by Ramani. They later decline to depose in the case due to their personal, professional and financial relationship with Akbar.

August 23, 2019: Ramani says that MJ Akbar had deliberately targeted her to divert attention from the serious complaints against him. “Through his testimony, he feigned ignorance about my story and my truth”, she says.

September 7, 2019: Ramani tells court that her tweet was meant to highlight the “sexually-coloured behaviour” that she faced in 1993 from him. “I used the word predator (in tweet) in the context of my personal experience with Akbar and shared experiences of many other women. I also used the word to emphasise and highlight the difference in age, influence and power between Akbar and myself”, she says.

September 9, 2019: Ramani tells court that case against her has come at a great personal cost. Tells court that it is necessary for women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace. Says that her disclosures on Akbar were for the public good.

October 24, 2019: Journalist Priya Ramani tells court that her move to deactivate her Twitter account was not deliberate to destroy evidence and states that the account can be reactivated. Asked whether she can open her Twitter account and confirm these comments, Ramani replies, “I deleted my Twitter account around a month ago, so it cannot be verified now. I do not remember the specific date.”

November 21, 2019: During her cross examination, Ramani tells the court that all the events described by her were not a “figment of her imagination and work of fiction.” “It is wrong to suggest that I had made the allegations against the complainant for oblique motive and not to empower women. It is wrong to suggest that I have mala fide and extraneous motive for making the allegations against Akbar”, she says.

Ramani adds that her tweets accusing Akbar were not defamatory and malicious.

December 11, 2019: Journalist Ghazala Wahab, the third defence witness in support of Priya Ramani tells Delhi court during her cross examination that allegations of sexual harassment she made against MJ Akbar were not a work of fiction and that that she did not maliciously concoct a story to damage his reputation. On December 10, she states before the court that she was sexually harassed by former Union Minister M J Akbar in 1997 and it left her “numbed with fear and shock”.

December 11, 2019: Journalist Ghazala Wahab, the third defence witness in support of Priya Ramani tells Delhi court during her cross examination that allegations of sexual harassment she made against MJ Akbar were not a work of fiction and that that she did not maliciously concoct a story to damage his reputation. On December 10, she states before the court that she was sexually harassed by former Union Minister M J Akbar in 1997 and it left her “numbed with fear and shock”.

February 7, 2020: Court starts hearing final arguments in the case. Akbar tells court that Priya Ramani was “jumping onto the #MeToo bandwagon” for having brought up the allegations of sexual harassment after several years.

February 28, 2020: Akbar’s lawyer tells court that the moment you call someone media’s biggest predator, it is “per se defamatory”. “Reputation effects not only that person but also others… you are sowing seeds of suspicion… you are doing it to his family, his children and those who interact with him socially and publicly… It has a cascading effect. Embarrassing questions were asked,” she told the court.

February 29, 2020: MJ Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra submits that for some people, their reputation is more valuable than their life. After writing a whole article, saying that it was about Mr Akbar…it was for the first time in court that they said that the entire article was not about him…” “There was no corrigendum, no apology. You did it with knowledge,” Luthra says about an article by Ramani.

September 8, 2020: Ramani says that she disclosed the alleged sexual harassment by former Union minister M J Akbar around 25 years later because back then there was “a vacuum in law and there was no platform either”. In the wake of #MeToo movement, Ramani in 2018 accused Akbar of sexual misconduct around 25 years ago when he was a journalist. Her lawyer Rebecca John says Ramani made the allegations in October 2018 since there was an “avalanche” taking place in India during the global #MeToo movement and that she felt “compelled to speak” after she saw several women, who had worked under Akbar between 1993-2011, speaking out against him.

September 19, 2020: Judge hearing the case seeks transfer of the matter to another court on the ground that his court was designated to hear cases filed against lawmakers.

October 14, 2020: Hearing arguments on whether the case can be heard in before a special MP/MLA court, Delhi court cautions that the consequences of the trial continuing without jurisdiction can be “very dangerous” because the entire proceedings can be construed vitiated and the trial de novo (anew, from the beginning). Court says that it can no longer hear the matter.

October 22, 2020: The District judge hearing the criminal defamation case refuses to transfer the case to another court and sends it back to a special MP/MLA court that has been hearing the matter for two years.

November 10, 2020: Akbar tells a court that Ramani could not discharge her duty of proving that her statements were made for public good. “You can’t tarnish a person’s reputation just like this. You have to show that what you said was not reckless, was not careless, was with due care and caution, and was the statement of a responsible person”, his lawyer states.

November 18, 2020: Vishal Pahuja, the judge hearing the case is transferred.

November 21, 2020: Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Ravindra Pandey takes over the case from Vishal Pahuja and urges both parties to consider settling the case since the offence is compoundable in nature. “The dispute between the two parties is compoundable in nature. You are senior lawyers and have settled disputes over the years. Is there a possibility of a settlement? I don’t know much about the case. I don’t know the level of the dispute. Prima facie, what I understand is that it is compoundable in nature. Both sides should decide, otherwise I will keep this for final arguments”, he says.

December 5, 2020: With MJ Akbar suing Ramani over a defamation case, Ramani disputes his claims of having a stellar reputation. Through her lawyers, she references an article in Firstpost annexed by Akbar and states that the article features embedded tweets of multiple women making allegations against Akbar. “When Akbar filed the complaint against me there were many women who made allegations against him but he chose to file the case only against Ramani. He knew there were other women and he knew about it,” her lawyer Rebecca John tells the court.

December 14, 2020: Speaking through her lawyer, Ramani tells the court that speaking up on the #MeToo platform is not a crime and that these are “acts of extreme courage that require celebration. These are not acts for which one should face defamation.”

January 5, 2021: Akbar states that he was called “media’s biggest sexual predator” without any research or investigation and accuses Ramani of making a false statement before the court regarding issuance of a corrigendum after her tweet about his reported resignation.

January 8, 2021: Countering Ramani’s argument that she was targeted by him, MJ Akbar states that Ramani attacked his reputation after her tweet triggered charges of sexual harassment against him. “It was Ramani’s tweet that triggered sexual harassment charges against Akbar…because she is the one who attacked me and attacked my reputation, a complaint was filed against her. I am within my rights to do so…” says Geeta Luthra.

Akbar states that Ramani’s tweet became the basis for the media and others repeating it.

January 13, 2021: During hearing in Delhi court, MJ Akbar claims that Ramani’s allegations of sexual harassment were a figment of her imagination. Claims that her allegations are not backed by any evidence. “You have to have empirical evidence which can stand scrutiny in the court of law. There is no such evidence in this case. There is no investigation. These are just statements…”, says Akbar’s lawyer.

January 22, 2021: MJ Akbar alleges that Ramani had destroyed all evidence “deliberately, intentionally, maliciously” by destroying her Twitter account. Akbar’s lawyer, senior advocate Geeta Luthra states, “These are all tweets. They were all primary evidence. Can she destroy evidence… another criminal case can be made out… All evidence which was part of the trial… deliberately, intentionally, maliciously has been destroyed…”

January 27, 2021: “No human being accused of sexual harassment can be a person of high reputation”, says Ramani during hearing. Ramani’s advocate Rebecca John, on behalf of Ramani states that “under no stretch of imagination” could it be argued that the entire Vogue article was on Ramani’s experience with Akbar.

February 1, 2021: Court reserves verdict after Akbar and Ramani complete their arguments.

February 10, 2021: Delhi court defers verdict to February 17 due to late submission of written submissions.

February 17, 2021: Delhi court acquits Priya Ramani and dismisses the complaint filed by Akbar saying that no charges were proved against her. Court records that Ramani’s disclosure was in the interest of helping those facing sexual harassment at workplace.

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