A Delhi court on Thursday took judicial note of journalist-turned-politician MJ Akbar's defamation plea against journalist Priya Ramani, who has accused him of sexual misconduct 20 years ago. The court has also decided to record the statement of Akbar on October 31 in the case.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal heard the submissions of senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing Akbar, that the "controversial" tweets and similar social media posts of Ramani have cause irreparable loss to his reputation built over 40 years.
"Let the matter be fixed for examination of the complainant (Akbar) and his witnesses for October 31," the magistrate said.
The senior lawyer referred to the sequence of events and said that Akbar has resigned from the post of Minister of State for External Affairs due to these allegations and this showed the extent of damage caused to his reputation.
She also referred to the reputation of Akbar as a journalist and sought judicial intervention in the matter by taking cognisance of the complaint.
As per the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the court would now record the pre-summoning evidence and statement of Akbar and other witnesses, referred to in the complaint and would issue notice to Ramani to face trial if it is satisfied that there are prima-facie substance in the complaint.
Akbar on Wednesday had tendered his resignation after making it clear that he had filed the case in his "personal" capacity and would fight it out in the court of law.
"Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to the External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country," Akbar had said in his letter.
Akbar on Monday had filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani alleging she "wilfully" and "maliciously" made imputations against him with the ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and political standing.
Expressing her readiness to fight the defamation allegations, Ramani had said, "Rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he (Akbar) seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment."
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 the "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.
Section 500 of the IPC provides for the sentence for the offence of defamation and an accused may be awarded two-year jail term or fine or both in the event of conviction.
Akbar's name had cropped up in the social media campaign #Metoo against alleged sexual harassment when he was in Nigeria.
Hours after returning home, Akbar had termed the allegations levelled against him by several women as "false, fabricated and deeply distressing" and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.
The women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment, included Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India on Thursday said that it hoped that MJ Akbar will withdraw his criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani, the first female journalist to accuse him of sexual harassment.
In a statement, the Guild also offered to provide legal assistance to women who had accused Akbar of sexual harassment and also urged eminent lawyers to represent them pro bono if the former editor does not withdraw his criminal defamation case or files more such cases.
The Guild said it salutes the courage shown by several women journalists in bringing to light instances of how they were sexually harassed.
It said Akbar's resignation from the union council of ministers was a result of these women journalists' courage to fight for a high principle - gender equality in the newsroom.
"We hope that Akbar will also display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of the complainants," the statement said."
"While 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 Akbar who happens to be a former President of the Guild.
"But if he doesn't, 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 appeals to eminent lawyers to represent them pro bono," it added.