New Delhi: In a joint statement, various journalist organisations have expressed disappointment over Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs MJ Akbar’s decision to file a defamation case in Delhi’s Patiala House Court against journalist Priya Ramani. They have asked Akbar to step down so that the matter can be probed in a fair manner.
“We are also deeply disappointed at the statement issued by MJ Akbar, Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs wherein he has threatened legal action against all those who have alleged they were harassed by him,” read a statement by the journalist organisations including Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association and South Asian Women in Media.
“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,” the statement added.
The organisations stated that 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 the inquiry is completed.”
“We are disappointed that Akbar did not choose to take this step instead of threatening the complainants with legal action. We recognise that sexual harassment at the workplace is a worrisome reality and that media organisations and managements have been unable to put the systems in place which would have ordinarily addressed complaints of sexual harassment,” the statement further read.
“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. An impartial probe should be conducted into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants more so as the accused party is an influential minister in the present government,” it added.
This comes after Akbar earlier in the day filed a defamation case in Delhi’s Patiala House Court against Ramani. A statement from Akbar’s lawyers confirmed that the complaint has been filed under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
“The scandalous allegations leveled by the accused against the complainant herein, by their very tone and tenor, are ex-facie defamatory and have not only damaged the goodwill and reputation of the complainant, in his social circles and on the political stage, established after years of toil and hard work, but have also affected the personal reputation of the complainant in the community, friends, family and colleagues, thereby causing him irreparable loss and tremendous distress,” the statement read.
After the recent #MeToo campaign raged in India, at least seven women alleged Akbar of sexually harassing them in the 1990s, when he was working as the editor for various newspapers.
Akbar has been facing flak over the allegations, with opposition parties demanding the minister’s resignation. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader on Sunday did not indicate any decision to step down and said that he will take a legal recourse in the matter.