Journalist Priya Ramani’s sexual harassment allegation against MJ Akbar is an attempt to “lower his reputation” and, thus, amounts to criminal defamation, the former editor and BJP leader’s counsel, Geeta Luthra, told a Delhi court today.
Arguments in the case are being heard afresh after it was transferred from judge Vishal Pahuja to judge Ravindra K Pandey in November.
Picking up from where she had left at the on December 22, Luthra said that by deleting her Twitter account after using it to make accusations against Akbar, Ramani tampered with “primary evidence” and, thereby, “abused” the court. Ramani is “not illiterate” to not know anything connected with the trial cannot be tampered with, she added.
The counsel claimed that “defamatory statements” made on social media garner more traction than “a newspaper article” and, therefore, have “far more repercussions” and are “more lethal” for the person named.
Referring to Ramani’s detailing her allegations against Akbar, the lawyer told the court, “The Vogue article is structured in seven paragraphs. The accused says the first paragraph refers to Akbar and the rest are generic. This version has not been corroborated by any of the witnesses. Your witnesses are concocting stories that are merely hearsay. Witness Ghazala Wahab did not say anything in this context, and her statements do not provide any assistance to the case.”
Given that it’s Akbar who has brought this defamation case against Ramani, Luthra said, the onus is on the journalist to prove that she exercised due caution in levelling allegations against her former boss. “You have to produce the evidence and not me,” the lawyer told Ramani. “By repeating a lie 10 times, it doesn’t become the truth. Calling someone corrupt, thief, predator, cheat is per se defamatory. You have made reckless irresponsible statements without due care and caution.
Ramani’s defence is that since there’s no legal provision to deal with a case like hers, she can defame a person in public, Luthra claimed, adding, “She writes on her Twitter, ‘This is a big victory for #metoo movement but Akbar represents countless men who believe they can do anything.’”
“Sorry, madam!” the lawyer continued. “This is more true about you who can do or say anything and destroy evidence without fearing any consequences.”
The lawyer further claimed that Ramani had admitted that “Akbar did not do anything” to her. “You are taking a false, frivolous, stretched out defence when you claim the line, ‘He didn’t do anything’ was sarcastic. All her statements are contradictory. Our law has remedies, but she has not availed of them.”
Ramani knew what she had tweeted about Akbar was false and indeed admitted during her cross-examination that it was an “honest mistake”, Luthra said, yet she never apologised, either in the court or on Twitter.
“My question to Ramani was,” Luthra recalled, “‘Is it correct that your tweet was incorrect? Did you feel the need to verify the tweet before publishing it? Did you issue a corrigendum when you thought it’s a mistake?’”
“She said, ‘Yes, I subsequently realized.’”
“I said, ‘Produce it.’”
“She said, ‘There is no process to produce a corrigendum.’”
Akbar was “an honourable and respectable man”, Luthra maintained, and trashed the allegations made against him as “offensive”, “unwarranted”, and a web of fabrication “spun out of lies”.
In upcoming hearings, Luthra added, she will produce witness testimonies affirming Akbar’s “stellar reputation”.
The next hearing is scheduled for January 4.