The hearing on BJP leader MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani concluded before a Delhi court on Monday with Rebecca John, appearing for Ramani, completing her final arguments.
Contesting the plaintiff’s argument that Ramani was wrong to prematurely tweet about Akbar’s resignation, John argued the argument was “bereft of any credibility” since it was based on media reports. During her cross-examination, Ramani had admitted that she made an “honest mistake”. Further, Akbar's resignation had nothing to do with her defense and the incident, she stated.
“The tweet saying ‘Men in high positions who commit acts of sexual harassment at workplace’ was done in the public interest, because such men must not remain in the public workplace. So the rest of the tweet falls in with my defense of public interest. It cannot be anyone’s case that men in high positions are entitled to sexually harass their subordinates,” John said.
Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra had stated that Ramani cannot claim the benefit of non-persecution of other women who have also leveled allegations of sexual harassment against him. To this, John said that if Akbar was aggrieved by Ramani's allegations, why was he not aggrieved by other serious charges of sexual assault and rape made by Ghazala Wahab and Pallavi Gogoi. “Isn’t that a graver charge for criminal defamation? Why Ramani?” she asked the court.
John cited the reason behind this “selective prosecution” was because Ramani was “a soft and vulnerable target” and perhaps Akbar “feared the consequences” in response to the graver allegations. “You have the right to pick and choose but you need to prove to the court that this was done due to x and y reasons. The objective is not to persecute but to harass,” she said.
Refuting the allegation that Ramani destroyed primary evidence by deleting her Twitter account, John called the argument “absurd and fallacious” since Ramani didn’t delete any tweets, only deactivating her account for “personal reasons”.
She also said that the complainant had ample time to examine Ramani’s account when the case was filed as the account was active at the time. “I do not have any liability to prove your case. I don’t have to assist you. It’s your problem that you didn’t do that,” she said.
She also refuted the allegation that it was Ramani who had first tweeted about the sexual harassment by Akbar, Wahab had tweeted first on October 6, 2018, followed by a few other women. Ramani took to Twitter to tweet about her experience on October 8, 2018.
John clarified that at every stage of the hearing, Ramani has backed her statements with material proof. Arguing on the point of res gestae and lack of CCTV footage to prove her case, she pointed out that this question can be asked from both sides. “If I didn’t do it, why didn’t you do it too? If I could have accessed the records after 25 years, I would have brought it. But it isn’t possible to get the records now,”she said.
“The lack of understanding is on their side. I have placed before the court robust and honest evidence showing that she was sexually harassed at the workplace,” John argued.
The Delhi court will pronounce its verdict on February 10 at 2.30 pm. Meanwhile, the parties can submit written submissions within the next four days.