Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John said the burden shifts to Akbar to ‘prove allegations’ of defamation ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
Journalist Priya Ramani’s counsel, Rebecca John, continued her final arguments on the defamation suit filed against her client by journalist and Bharatiya Janata party politician MJ Akbar. John read testimonies of witnesses produced by the complainant to support his arguments.
The case had last been heard on September 8.
After reading their testimonies, John argued that all the witnesses were close associates of Akbar and seemed to have believed that his reputation was damaged after Ramani’s tweet on October 8, 2018. She said that “lowering of reputation for a brief period” doesn't meet the gravity requirement of defamation as laid down in Explanation 4 of Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.
John reiterated that the witnesses produced by Akbar are “unreliable”, since they “feigned ignorance towards allegations against Akbar despite being journalists belonging to the same world”, even though the allegations were made on a public platform. They have chosen to selectively depose Ramani’s case, she said.
"All of them have said that they haven’t met or known Ramani, neither have they worked with her. So, what are they testifying for?” John asked. “How can they contest [her] allegations?”
John read out the testimony of Ghazala Wahab, who had testified about being sexually harassed by Akbar. She said Wahab’s testimony “poked holes” in Akbar’s claim that he is a man of “impeccable reputation”.
Previously, Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra had claimed that Wahab’s testimony was “hearsay” and therefore irrelevant to the case. John refuted this claim today, saying Wahab gave her own account in her own words. “It is not irrelevant or hearsay evidence...Wahab was neither a friend nor a colleague of Ramani prior to making allegations against Akbar,” she argued. “Why would Wahab then come to court and give this very painful testimony?”
She called Wahab’s testimony “creditworthy, organic, spontaneous and relevant to the case”, noting that it had been Wahab who first tweeted allegations against MJ Akbar on October 6, 2018. The tweet had asked “when the floodgates would open” against Akbar. Ramani’s own tweet was two days later, on October 8, 2018.
John also cited Wahab’s piece in the Wire on October 10 that year, which had detailed Wahab’s allegations that Akbar had “sexually harassed and molested” her, pointing out that all this happened before Akbar filed the defamation complaint against Ramani.
“This is selective targeting of Priya Ramani,” John said, “to create a chilling effect to halt other women from speaking out. This too is a question on the credibility of Akbar.”
She continued: “You can say defamation 100 times, but once I’ve proved the exceptions by a preponderance of probabilities, the burden shifts on you to prove your allegations beyond reasonable doubt.”
John said that the “standards of proof for sets of evidence produced by the defendant and complainant is different...The standard of proof is higher for the complainant. Even when the law only demands preponderance of probabilities from me, I have proved my case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The court adjourned the matter to September 19.
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