In the latest hearing on MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani on Thursday, the BJP leader’s counsel Geeta Luthra insisted that the harm done to his reputation was “unpardonable”.
She complained that Ramani had gone from making “a generic allegation” of sexual harassment to naming “Akbar as the editor who sexually harassed her” very quickly. “She says in 2017 it was one anonymous article, which I say is a fictitious article. Had it been true, it would have been done in 2017 itself. It now smells of malice,” Luthra said.
As for Ramani’s allegation that Akbar had called her to a Mumbai hotel for a job interview and asked her to give him a shoulder rub, they were “baseless”. “It's not borne out whether the allegations are attributed to the complainant,” Luthra said. “There is not a whisper of good faith or the public interest.”
Noting that Ramani had deleted her tweets accusing Akbar of harassing her, Luthra said, “Everything has been destroyed deliberately, intentionally, maliciously. Since she has deleted it how can she expect us to question her on this. She says that the court didn't ask her to save her Twitter account. How can one take a defense like this when she knows a criminal case is pending against her?”
Reading out a few “sample comments” on Ramani’s deleted tweets, Luthra argued that her posts had “besmirched” Akbar’s reputation. One Twitter user commented that his perspective about Akbar had “changed” after reading Ramani’s allegation, Luthra said, which shows the former editor’s reputation took a beating because of Ramani’s tweets.
“Was it deleted during the cross-examination?” the judge, Ravindra K Pandey, asked, referring to Ramani’s Twitter account.
“On October 24, 2018, she said she had deleted her account around a month ago, while her examination was in progress. She did not remember the specific date,” Luthra responded.
“Have you filed a complaint against her for destruction of evidence?” the judge asked.
“We have the right to do so but we haven't. We want the court to take cognizance, so we have flagged before the court that it speaks volumes on her conduct,” Luthra said.
If Ramani believed she had been harassed by Akbar, Luthra said, she should have gone to court for redress rather than tweeted out allegations against her former editor. “She says there was no redressal mechanism and I am trying to show that if you had a mechanism since 1816, more than one and half centuries ago, as a journalist and even as a common person she would have known the provisions of the Indian Penal Code,” Luthra added.
Ramani didn’t approach the court, Luthra alleged, because there was not an “iota or a semblance of truth” in her story. “By doing this you have harmed him. He has come to redress his reputation but it has been tarnished,” Luthra told Ramani. “And still there is no realisation? You are saying it has cost you? I wonder at what kind of cost it has come to you. You are trying to create artificial distinction. It is unpardonable.”