A Delhi court on Thursday took cognizance of the criminal defamation complaint filed by former Union Minister and former editor MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani. The court directed him to appear on October 31 when Akbar’s statement will be recorded in connection with the complaint.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Samar Vishal said: “I take cognizance of the offence under Section 500 (punishment for defamation) of the IPC. Examination of the complaint and the witnesses will happen at the next hearing.” The court will begin pre-summoning evidence in the case on October 31.
This order came after Akbar’s counsel made submissions requesting the court to consider the defamation complaint against the woman journalist. Akbar was not present at the hearing 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.
Luthra, in specific, pointed out three tweets of Ramani dated October, 8, 10 and 12, and argued how they “lowered his reputation.” She said, “in front of friends, family…my reputation is lowered. It has defamed me.” Luthra quoted Ramani’s October 8 tweet where she first named Akbar, and at the hearing said, “predator is a very strong word.” To this the ACMM said “I have read it.”
Luthra then said, “I don’t want to offend other sensibilities by reading it.”
The tweet by Ramani that Luthra referred to said: “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator – maybe they’ll share,” along with a link to her 2017 article in Vogue magazine titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.”
Luthra then mentioned Ramani’s October 10 tweet,”Ten of us @_sabanaqvi @prernabindra @ghazalawahab @kadambarim @shutapapaul @suparnasharma @harinderbaweja @shumaraha @153anju have painted you a clear portrait of media’s biggest sexual predator. How many more stories do you need to hear? #MJAkbar.”
Luthra told the court that this was picked up by many media houses.
“Akbar is an Indian politician, he was MoS Ministry of External Affairs, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, he has history in journalism with The Asian Age, Telegraph…this shows he is a person who has a reputation which has been tarnished.”
Since October 8, more than a dozen women have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and assault, when he was an editor in the ‘90s. On Tuesday, Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani, and resigned as Union Minister on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India asked Akbar to “display grace” and withdraw the defamation case. The Guild came out in support of the women journalists who accused him of sexual harassment. The Guild also offered legal support to women journalists who levelled the allegations against Akbar in case he does not withdraw the present case or files such cases against other women.
“While Mr Akbar is entitled to all legal instruments available to a citizen to seek vindication, it would be paradoxical for a veteran editor to employ the instrument of criminal defamation. More so for Mr Akbar who happens to be a former president of the Guild,” the Guild said.