New Delhi: In another twist to the storm surrounding the #MeToo allegations against journalist-turned-politician MJ Akbar, the Editors Guild of India on Thursday asked him to withdraw the criminal defamation case he filed against journalist Priya Ramani. The guild’s statement comes on a day when Delhi’s Patiala House Court commenced hearing on Akbar’s criminal defamation complaint against Priya Ramani, who has accused him of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago. (Also read: ‘Political Parties Have Been Asked to Form Internal Complaint Committees,’ Says Maneka Gandhi)

According to PTI, as the top editors’ body came out in support of the women journalists, it also offered legal support to them in case Akbar did not withdraw the present case or filed such cases against other women too. The guild’s strong voice of support comes a day after Akbar stepped down as the Minister of State for External Affairs after as many as 20 came out against him, alleging sexual harassment at work place when they worked under him at The Asian Age. In a statement, the guild said it salutes the courage shown by several women journalists in talking about how they were sexually harassed.

“The resignation of Mr MJ Akbar from Union council of ministers is a result of these women journalists’ courage to fight for a high principle: gender equality in the newsroom. We hope that Mr Akbar will also display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of these complainants,” it said.

The guild said that while Akbar was 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”.

It said if Akbar doesn’t withdraw the cases, “or in case he files such cases against other women too, the guild offers its support to them. If any of them were to need legal advice or assistance, the guild will do the best it can to help and also appeal to eminent lawyers to represent them pro bono,” the statement said.

Akbar had filed the complaint against Ramani alleging she “wilfully” and “maliciously” made imputations against him with the ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and political standing. Soon after, 20 women journalists sent a petition to the court, seeking that they be heard too.