#MeToo: Delhi court acquits Priya Ramani in MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation case

Courtesy: Live Law

New Delhi: A Delhi Court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar over the “metoo” sexual harassment allegations levelled by her.

“Woman has right to put her grievance even after decades”, the Court observed. It observed that a man of social status can also be a sexual harasser.

“Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence. Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity”, the Court held.

“The society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims”, the Court observed taking particular note of the absence of Vishakha guidelines at the relevant time.

“Article 21 and the right to equality is guaranteed under the Constitution. She has full right to put up her case in any platform of her choice”

“Time has come for our society to understand that sometimes a victim may for years not speak up due to the mental trauma. The woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse”, the order said.

The judgment was delivered by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Ravindra Kumar Pandey in open court in the presence of both parties.

The court had on Feb 1, 2021, reserved judgment in the case after hearing rebuttal arguments of Akbar and Ramani. The judgment which was originally reserved for February 10, was deferred for February 17 after the judge noted that the written submissions were submitted late to the court and therefore more time was needed to deliver the verdict.

Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra represented Mr. MJ Akbar whereas Ms. Priya Ramani was represented by Senior Advocate Rebecca John. The Court, while reserving judgment in the matter, granted liberty to the parties for filing additional written statements within 4 days.

The criminal defamation case was filed by MJ Akbar in a Delhi Court in October 2018, after he was accused by several women of sexual harassment, following a tweet by Ramani as part of the ‘#MeToo’ movement, revealing that the person referred to as a sexual harasser in an earlier article written by her in ‘The Vogue’ was Akbar.

The then Minister of State for External Affairs, Akbar initiated the defamation case after a slew of allegations of sexual harassment followed against him after Ramani’s tweet. His case is that before Ramani’s alleged defamatory tweet, he had enjoyed a “stellar reputation” in the society, which was damaged following her tweet and therefore she was liable for criminal defamation. Akbar has also claimed that Ramani’s tweet had led to a social media trial against him, something that cannot be permitted in a lawful society.

Ramani, on her part, has claimed public interest, public good, and truth as her defense and argued that one accused of sexual misconduct cannot in the first place claim to have a stellar reputation, therefore was no question arising of the reputation being destroyed and defamation having occurred against Akbar.

Ramani was summoned by the Court in the case in January 2019 and released on bail in February 2019.

The arguments were earlier completed before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja. However, following his transfer to the Karkardooma Court in November 2020, the final arguments started again before ACMM Ravindra Kumar Pandey. The recording of evidence of the witnesses was done before ACMM Pahuja.

When ACMM Pandey took charge of the case, he had asked the parties if there was a chance to compromise. However, Ramani said that she was standing by her statements and refused to settle the matter.