#MeToo case: Delhi court defers verdict on MJ Akbar’s defamation suit against Priya Ramani to 17 February

The crux of Ramani's arguments in court was that she was not the sole person who had made allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar, but he had selectively targetted her due to her vulnerability

FP Staff February 10, 2021 15:43:11 IST
#MeToo case: Delhi court defers verdict on MJ Akbar’s defamation suit against Priya Ramani to 17 February

File images of MJ Akbar and Priya Ramani. PTI

A Delhi Court on Wednesday deferred to 17 February the pronouncement of verdict in the criminal defamation filed by MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani for her allegations of sexual harassment against him.

The court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar had concluded the hearing and decided to reserve the verdict on 1 February after Akbar, as well as Ramani, completed their arguments. The Rouse Avenue Court had also allowed both the parties to file their written submissions, if any, within five days. The submissions, however, got delayed because of which the pronouncement of the verdict had to be further pushed to 17 February.

Ramani's Arguments

The crux of Ramani's arguments in court has been that she was not the sole person who had made allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar, but he had selectively targetted her due to her vulnerability and to intimidate other survivors through her.

In her concluding statement on 1 February, senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Ramani, said that Akbar should not get any relief as he chose to target Ramani to target other women.

"Why was Akbar not aggrieved by graver allegations made by Ghazala Wahab and Pallavi Gogoi. As charges became graver, Akbar became unsure. Wahab's allegations were of six months of sexual assault and harassment. Akbar opposed Gogoi's statement saying it was not rape but a consensual relationship," John said.

She said Akbar did not give any reason as to why he chose to file a case against Ramani and not others.

"When you pick and choose, one has to say the reason for not choosing others was for X or Y, which was not done in the present case. Akbar went after Ramani because she was a soft and vulnerable target.

"The object is to harass. That is the consequence. Selective prosecution must be deprecated. The prosecution that chooses to target Ramani to target other women should get no relief," she said.

John further refuted Akbar's claim that Ramani's tweet instigated and ignited the first flame when she accused him of sexual misconduct, saying that journalist Wahab tweeted on 6 October, 2018, and after that journalist Shunali Kullar Shroff made the allegations of sexual misconduct.

"I (Ramani) tweeted on 8 October," John said.

The counsel added that Akbar's argument asking phone records, CCTV footage or hotel record of the alleged meeting was of no use because there would be no such evidence since the incident took place 20 years ago.

"They argued I could have brought on record CCTV footage, call records. The burden on me is not of proof beyond ready doubt. Why didn't you (Akbar) disprove the allegations? What stopped you from bringing the hotel records and CCTV footage?

"After 20 years, there will be no phone records, CCTV footage, or hotel record. I would have if I could have," she said.

Ramani's counsel said that Akbar's argument that by deactivating her Twitter account, Ramani destroyed and tempered with the primary evidence was absurd and fallacious.

"She has not deleted any tweets. Ramani has deactivated her Twitter account for personal reasons. I (Ramani) have not deleted (it). What are the consequences in relation to the complaint against me? Have I denied making these tweets? From the time I was summoned, I have taken on consistent plea with integrity and honesty. I have not feigned ignorance. I don't suffer from memory losses," she said.

John further questioned why Akbar did not move an application seeking to reactivate Ramani's Twitter account.

"Twitter should have proved these tweets but I admitted. No evidence has been destroyed. Whether I deactivate or remain or Twitter is a private relationship between Twitter and me.

"Did they move a single application asking this court to direct me to reactivate my Twitter account? Very often counsel move applications for the presentation of call data records, bank account, etc. Did they move any such application? Why is the onus on me," she said.

John further added that if the court directs, the Twitter account can be activated even today.

"I reactivated when they asked me to check for corrigendum. I deactivated (it) again. There is not a single direction from the court. I have admitted the primary evidence. They had ample time to examine my Twitter account when they filed the case. You didn't work. It's not my fault. I'm not obliged to help you to make a case against me.

"If the court directs, it can be activated even today. The account is not the subject matter of this case. Nothing stopped them from asking for preservation of account at the start of the trial," she said, adding that she had a constitutional right to privacy.

She added that the trial was not a fishing and roving inquiry and that even during cross-examination, the court did not ask Ramani to reactivate her Twitter account.

During earlier hearings, Ramani had also explained and sought to justify the usage of the word 'predator' in her allegations — something that Akbar has taken serious objection to in his defamation lawsuit.

Ramani said, "A predator is more powerful than his prey."

"I used the word 'predator' to emphasise and highlight the difference in age, influence and power between Mr Akbar and myself. I was a young journalist, he was a famous editor, 20 years older than me who called me to his bedroom in a hotel for a job interview."

Recounting the events on the evening in 1993, she said, "This is not what I expected. I thought the interview would be in the coffee shop or in the lobby. But I was 23. I didn't have the confidence to say "no, I'll wait for you in the lobby".

During the interview, the journalist noted that she was asked several "inappropriate personal questions" and feeling unnerved, she had decided "never be alone with him in a room [with him] ever again".

Akbar's Arguments

Akbar has countered Ramani's claim that besides her many women journalists have accused him of sexual miscount by stating that she was the first among many to have started a trend of maligning a person of repute without due proof.

Akbar told the Delhi court on 18 January that harm to his reputation was done by journalist Priya Ramani as she instigated and ignited the flame first when she accused him of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place decades ago.

"It doesn't matter what people say post facto. Harm is done by the man who instigates and ignites the flame first," Akbar's counsel Geeta Luthra told the court.

She said there was no public interest in Ramani's allegation.

"There is no public interest. There is no good faith. There is just some other motive. It is not for me to state it," she said. "It is vindictive and actuated out of malice. The fact is you can just spoil a person's reputation," she added.

Akbar had filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani on 15 October, 2018. He resigned as Union minister on 17 October, 2018.

Akbar had earlier told the court that Ramani had defamed him by calling him with adjectives such as "media's biggest predator" that harmed his reputation.

He has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment made by over 20 women who came forward during the #MeToo campaign against him. He termed the allegations false, fabricated, and deeply distressing and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.

With inputs from PTI

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