#MeToo: Priya Ramani pleads ‘not guilty’ in M J Akbar’s criminal defamation case

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N one of the first cases to come before the Indian judiciary in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, journalist Priya Ramani who accused former Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar of sexual harassment, today pleaded “not guilty” in the criminal defamation case filed against her by Akbar.

Ramani was the first woman to accuse Akbar of sexual harassment, a claim he denied as being “wild and baseless”. Around twenty women have accused him of similar conduct after Ramani, which led him to step down from his position in October 2018.

Appearing before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, during the filing of her charge sheet, Ramani today claimed truth as her defence, and said that her allegation of sexual harassment against Akbar was in public interest. Ramani stated she was not guilty of defaming Akbar and wanted a trial.



Her lawyer, Senior Advocate Rebecca John, while speaking to The Leaflet about the next steps in this case, said, “Mr Akbar will have to testify in court. I will personally cross examine him. We have enough evidence to disprove his complaint.’’

Akbar, who is still a Member of the Rajya Sabha, was also the founding editor of The Telegraph, and The Asian Age.

Ramani was granted bail in February this year, with a surety of Rs. 10,000. The Court also allowed an application moved by Ms Ramani to dispense with her personal appearance in the case. The trial has now been fixed for May 4, 2019.

In cases of criminal defamation, truth of a statement, made in public interest, is a valid defence. In 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code that provides for the offence of criminal defamation. Among other things, this provision was challenged on the grounds of being violative of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.