Court admits MJ Akbar’s defamation case against journalist

A group of 19 women journalists, who worked with The Asian Age newspaper in 1990s, have expressed support for Priya Ramani

New Delhi: A Delhi court on Thursday agreed to hear journalist-turned-politician MJ Akbar’s defamation suit against one of the many women who accused him of sexual misconduct during his time as a newspaper editor.

Akbar, who stepped down from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet of ministers on Wednesday, was asked by the court to record his statement on October 31.

He tendered his resignation as Minister of State for External Affairs, amid growing demands after 20 women levelled allegations of sexual misconduct on him.

Journalist Priya Ramani, who was the first woman to call out Akbar under the growing #MeToo movement in India, said the truth was her “only defence”.

“MJ Akbar seeks to silence through intimidation and harassment. Those who have spoken against Akbar have done so at great risk to personal and professional lives. Truth and the absolute truth are my only defence,” Ramani told Gulf News.

A group of 19 women journalists, who worked with The Asian Age newspaper in 1990s, have expressed support for Ramani.

The list includes Prerna Singh Bindra, Ghazala Wahab, Shutapa Paul, Anju Bharti, Suparna Sharma, Shuma Raha, Malini Bhupta, Kanika Gahlaut, Kadambari M Wade, Majlie de Puy Kamp and Ruth David.

Akbar was the senior editor of The Asian Age at that time. Some of the women journalists claimed to have been sexually harassed by him, while others were a witness to several alleged episodes of sexual misconduct.

“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 some of us faced at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment,” the journalists said in a joint statement.

On Thursday, advocate Geeta Luthra, who is representing Akbar, said Ramani’s tweets and articles had caused “irreparable harm” to the former minister’s reputation.

“Priya Ramani’s article and tweets have spoiled his reputation and goodwill, built over 40 years. MJ Akbar has resigned due to these allegations. The 1,200 likes and 200 retweets show how widely the article was read and her tweets were picked up by international media,” Luthra told the court.

Akbar, who was present in court, denied all claims of sexual misconduct and termed them as “false, fabricated and spiced up”.

“Ms Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not, however, name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a tweet: ‘Never named him because he didn’t do anything.’ If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story. This was admitted at the very inception,” Akbar told the court.

Meanwhile, the Editors’ Guild of India has come out in support of the 20 women journalists fighting the case against Akbar. The Guild asked Akbar to withdraw the case.

“We hope that Mr Akbar will display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of these complainants. 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 in a statement.

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