In the latest hearing on MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani, the BJP leader’s lawyer Geeta Luthra claimed that the testimony of Niloufer Venkatraman, a defence witness, was purely hearsay and inadmissible. She also alleged that the documents produced by Ramani’s counsel had been tampered with.
Arguing that there was no contemporaneous evidence for Ramani’s allegation that Akbar had sexually harassed her in the early 90s, Luthra said, “When I read Niloufer's evidence whose testimony is hearsay and inadmissible, she refers to the tweets and messages of Ramani on Whatsapp.”
Venkatraman produced a photo of Ramani’s tweets against Akbar, which she had later deleted, but it was cropped, Luthra added. “The moment something is cropped, it is tampered and cannot be secondary evidence, and hence becomes inadmissible,” she added.
She noted that the documents submitted by her as evidence had not been objected to by the defence whereas she had categorically rejected all the documents produced by Ramani’s side because, according to her, none were admissible.
Referring to Ramani’s detailing her allegations against Akbar, Luthra described it as a “fictitious article” that didn’t name any person. Ramani had only written it, Luthra said, because her employer had “asked her to write something”.
“She says he didn't do anything. It is vindictive and stated out of malice. There is no truth, no good faith, there is just some other motive and it is not for me to state it,” Luthra submitted.
Luthra took exception to Ramani describing Akbar as a “predator” in her article. “We have to see what was the truth about calling Akbar media's biggest sexual predator,” she said. “You cannot assign a different meaning to the word predator since this itself is per se defamatory. Many people in positions of hierarchy are more powerful but you can't call them a predator. There are many words to describe a junior-senior relationship. You cannot turn around and say that you are calling a person the media's biggest predator.”
As a journalist, Luthra remarked, Ramani should have been responsible. “You should know the meaning and if you don't know the meaning open the dictionary and see it,” she said. “You can't write without any sense of responsibility or accountability.”
Luthra will finish her arguments in the next hearing, which is slated for January 21.