New Delhi: M J Akbar’s criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani, who has accused him of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago, is scheduled to come up for hearing on Thursday in the Patiala House court here.
Akbar resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs on Wednesday following a spate of accusations of sexual misconduct leveled by several women.
His lawyer Sandeep Kapur said the legal battle would commence from Thursday and the veteran journalist-turned politician would press for the prosecution of scribe Priya Ramani against whom he filed the defamation complaint when he was the minister.
Kapur of law firm Karanjawala and Co said the private criminal defamation case would come up for hearing before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Samar Vishal.
There has been mounting pressure on Akbar by political opponents, alleged victims and #MeToo activists to resign.
He said since he decided to move the court to “seek justice” in “personal capacity”, he decided to step down to challenge “false accusations” also in “personal capacity”.
ACMM Vishal’s court is the special designated court of the national capital to hear cases pertaining to politicians and has been hearing various high-profile matters including the National Herald, Sunanda Pushkar’s death, matters against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, cross-defamation cases involving Union minister Smriti Irani and Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam.
The lawyer also forwarded the brief resignation letter of Akbar, who had been associated with several media houses in the past.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to the External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country,” Akbar said in his letter.
Kapur said since the matter is sub-judice, the law will take its own course.
“Since we have already filed the defamation case, we will pursue it in the court,” he said, adding the future course of action would be decided after the ACMM takes call on the recording of statement of Akbar, a condition precedent for issuing summon to an accused.
The private complaint has sought prosecution of Ramani, who has accused Akbar of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago.
Section 500 of the IPC provides for the sentence for the offence of defamation and an accused may be awarded two-year jail term or fine or both in the event of conviction.
Akbar’s name had cropped up in the social media campaign #Metoo against alleged sexual harassment when he was in Nigeria on an official tour as an Union Minister.
Hours after returning home, Akbar had termed the allegations levelled against him by several women as “false, fabricated and deeply distressing” and had said he would be taking appropriate legal action against them.
Akbar on Monday had knocked the doors of the court by filing the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani alleging she “wilfully” and “maliciously” made imputations against him with the ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and political standing.
On the other hand, Ramani expressed her readiness to fight the defamation allegations and had said, “Rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he (Akbar) seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment.”
Akbar’s plea had listed alleged defamatory imputations made by Ramani on social media and also referred to his “long and illustrious” career as a journalist while terming the allegations of Ramani as a “figment of her imagination”.
“Whilst it is apparent that the accused has resorted to a series of maliciously serious allegations which she is diabolically and viciously spreading in media, it is also apparent that false narrative against the complainant (Akbar) is being circulated in a motivated manner for the fulfilment of an agenda,” it alleged.
It had termed as “scandalous” the allegations made by Ramani and said “very tone and tenor” are “ex-facie defamatory” and they have not only damaged his goodwill and reputation in his social circle but also affected Akbar’s reputation in “the community, friends, family and colleagues” and caused “irreparable loss” and “tremendous distress”.
It had claimed that the woman journalist, while putting forward the allegations relating to incidents which allegedly occurred 20 years ago, “intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated, and salacious imputations to harm the reputation of the complainant”.
“The conduct of the accused person, of not taking any action before any authority, qua the alleged incident against the complainant also clearly belies the sanctity of the article and allegations made by the accused person, which evidently goes on to prove that the said defamatory articles are only a figment of her imagination,” it said.
The women who have accused Akbar of sexual harassment so far included Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul.