New Delhi: Delhi’s Patiala House Court on Thursday took cognisance of M J Akbar’s private criminal defamation case filed against journalist Priya Ramani and scheduled the next hearing on October 31 when it will examine the statements of the complainant and other witnesses.
After examining the statements, the court will decide whether or not to submit the case against Ramani and summon her.
In today’s hearing, senior lawyer Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, submitted before the court that Ramani’s tweets and articles were defamatory which have caused “irreparable damage” to the journalist-turned-politician’s reputation which he “built in over 40 years”.
“Priya Ramani has tweeted defamatory tweets against complainant. Her second tweet was clearly defamatory and liked by 1200 people,” ANI quoted Luthra as telling the court.
“Articles in international and national media quoted these defamatory tweets. Tweets are defamatory unless Ramani proves anything,” the lawyer added.
In the defamation case against Ramani, Akbar has accused her of “wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” defaming him and sought her prosecution under Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
Akbar’s plea had listed alleged defamatory imputations made by Ramani on social media and also referred to his “long and illustrious” career as a journalist while terming the allegations of Ramani as a “figment of her imagination”.
“Whilst it is apparent that the accused has resorted to a series of maliciously serious allegations which she is diabolically and viciously spreading in media, it is also apparent that false narrative against the complainant (Akbar) is being circulated in a motivated manner for the fulfilment of an agenda,” it alleged.
It had termed as “scandalous” the allegations made by Ramani and said “very tone and tenor” are “ex-facie defamatory” and they have not only damaged his goodwill and reputation in his social circle but also affected Akbar’s reputation in “the community, friends, family and colleagues” and caused “irreparable loss” and “tremendous distress”.
It had claimed that the woman journalist, while putting forward the allegations relating to incidents which allegedly occurred 20 years ago, “intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated, and salacious imputations to harm the reputation of the complainant”.
“The conduct of the accused person, of not taking any action before any authority, qua the alleged incident against the complainant also clearly belies the sanctity of the article and allegations made by the accused person, which evidently goes on to prove that the said defamatory articles are only a figment of her imagination,” it said.
Akbar on Wednesday resigned as the Minister of State for External Affairs after as many as 20 women journalists, who worked with him during his stint as editor in Asian Age 20 years ago, came out in support of Ramani and filed a written petition in the court seeking permission to consider their testimony about the “culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that he engendered and presided over” at the newspaper.
“Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider the testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment,” the journalists said in the joint statement undersigned by them.
Meenal Baghel who worked for Asian Age (1993 to 1996), Manisha Pande (1993-1998), Tushita Patel (1993-2000), Kanika Gahlaut (1995-1998), Suparna Sharma (1993-1996), Ramola Talwar Badam (1994-1995), Hoihnu Hauzel (1999-2000), Aisha Khan (1995-1998) and Kushalrani Gulab (1993-1997) have signed the statement.
Kaniza Gazari (Asian Age 1995-1997), Malavika Banerjee (1995-1998), A T Jayanthi (1995-1996), Hamida Parkar (1996-1999), Jonali Buragohain, Meenakshi Kumar (1996-2000), Sujata Dutta Sachdeva (1999-2000), Reshmi Chakraborty (1996-98), Kiran Manral (1993-96) and Sanjari Chatterjee are the other journalists to sign the statement.
One journalist from Deccan Chronicle, Christina Francis (2005-2011), also signed the statement.
On his return from an overseas trip on Sunday, Akbar responded to the demands for his resignation by terming the accusations against him “false, fabricated and deeply distressing”. Alleging political vendetta, he had also questioned the timing of the allegations saying why the storm had come months before the general elections.