#MeToo Charges: Brazen-Faced MJ Akbar Files Criminal Defamation Suit Against Journalist

Truth is the best defence, says Priya Ramani, as support pours in from women, journalist organisations, individuals

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Delhi: As the chorus for his resignation grows, Minister of State for External Affairs and former Editor M J Akbar, stung by sexual harassment allegations by at least 14 women journalists as part of the #MeTooIndia on social media, tried to play the victim card by accusing all these women of following a ‘political agenda’ and even filed a criminal defamation case against one of them.

Akbar, who has been accused of sexual misconduct as Editor, on Monday filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani in Delhi’s Patiala House Court. Ramani was the first to call him out after she posted her October 2017 article written in Vogue India magazine in which she had written about his sexual misconduct and harassment at workplace without naming him. After that followed a volley of allegations by various women, including a foreign journalist who is Akbar’s friend’s daughter and was just 18 years old when he allegedly forced himself on her.

Ramani told The Indian Express on Sunday: “Akbar has decided to brazen it out. There is no conspiracy against Akbar, none of us — unlike him — have any political ambitions. We are speaking up at great cost to our personal and professional lives”, adding that “The truth is the best defence in any defamation case. I’m not worried.”

Akbar’s friend’s daughter (who was 18 years old when he allegedly forced a kiss on her), New York-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp (30), told Indian Express: “I am not a citizen, I cannot vote. I do not have a political agenda. Plus, I have a paper trail. My father wrote an email to Akbar about the incident to which he responded. I have evidence. I am disappointed but not surprised by his statement. I am, however, very comfortable with my story.”

Incidentally, a criminal defamation case, as opposed to a civil defamation case, entails imprisonment if found guilty.

According to CNN-News18, Akbar filed the suit through his advocates Karanjawala and Co, which is expected to be heard in the post-lunch session on Tuesday, where 97 lawyers are expected to represent the junior Minister.

The complaint was filed under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, “for making false and defamatory statements in print/electronic media”. Akbar has accused Ramani of “willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defaming” him on “wholly and completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds”, thereby harming his “goodwill and reputation”, according to Firstpost.

So far, there are conflicting voices emerging from the ruling BJP. While the Prime Minister is still silent on the allegations, two women ministers in the Union Cabinet — Maneka Gandhi and Smriti Irani — have openly voiced their concern over the issue, with the former also calling for an investigation.

Women journalists, meanwhile, held a demonstration in Delhi on Saturday demanding Akbar’s resignation. Over a hundred feminist organisations and individuals, too, have come out in support of the women journalists calling for united struggles to ensure a safe workplace for women.

Coming down heavily on patriarchy and power play, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat flayed the BJP’s ‘silent’ response on allegations against their Minister.

“What message is the government sending by keeping him (Akbar) on? We need to question the politics of such a government and the cultural impunity that it is strengthening by refusing to take action against him. This is exactly what cultural impunity is all about: political patronage, corporate power, money power and position power,” she said in an interview with Hindu Business Line.

Referring to BJP’s stand on the Unnao and Kathua rape cases, Karat said BJP had “the same response when a brave girl gave such detailed evidence against a Minister. This government supported him; they supported what happened in Unnao and Kathua.”

In a joint statement, the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, South Asian Women in Media and Press Association expressed “deep disappointment” at the statement issued by M J Akbar wherein he has threatened legal action against all those who have alleged they were harassed by him.

“Mr. Akbar is a senior functionary of the government and his response should reflect the responsibility that is thus bestowed on him. There can be no dispute about the need for an impartial probe into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants – and this acquires particular significance if one of the accused is an influential minister in the government. In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the minister step down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed. We are disappointed that Mr. Akbar did not choose to take this step instead of threatening the complainants with legal action.@ read the statement.

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