NEW DELHI: Journalist Priya Ramani on Wednesday pleaded not guilty and claimed trial as a Delhi court framed defamation charges against her in a case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar.
Ramani has appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Samar Vishal on Wednesday.
ACMM Samar Vishal also granted a permanent exemption to Ramani from personal appearance in the hearings to follow.
The matter has been listed for further hearing on May 4.
On January 29, the Delhi Patiala House Court had issued summons to Priya Ramani as an accused in the defamation case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar against her.
The court also asked her to appear before it on the next date of hearing on February 25. However, she granted bail in the case in February 25 on a personal bond of Rs 10,000.
“The next date when they will frame the charges against me is April 10. After that, it will be my turn to tell my story. The truth is my defence”, Journalist Priya Ramani had said after granted bail by Patiala House Court.
Priya Ramani is a senior journalist who was the first one to come out with allegations against MJ Akbar as the #MeToo movement gathered pace in India.
She had accused Akbar of sexual harassment and misconduct around 20 years ago, in a series of tweets published in October 2018. But it was denied by him.
On October 15, 2018, the former Minister of State for External Affairs had filed a criminal defamation case in Delhi’s Patiala House Court against Priya Ramani.
In his petition, he accused Ramani of "willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously" defaming him and has sought her prosecution under the penal provision on defamation.
“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 is being circulated in a motivated manner for the fulfilment of an agenda”, the complaint had said.
On October 16, last year, while responding to the case filed against her, Ramani had said,
"I am deeply disappointed that a Union Minister should dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy. By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, Akbar has made his stand clear".
"I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence," the journalist had said.
On October 17, last year Akbar had resigned as the Minister of State for External after Ramani and other women accused him of sexual harassment.
"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," he had said in a statement.
On October 31, last year, Akbar had said in Court, immediate damage has been caused to him due to the scurrilous, concocted and false allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him.
“Indeed there was immediate damage because of the scurrilous nature of these concocted and false allegations. I was attacked in my personal capacity about alleged and fabricated non-events allegedly done two decades ago," he said in his statement.
On January 11, three more witnesses in the case recorded their statements in the court.
In total, seven people, including Akbar, have recorded their statements in the criminal defamation case.
The six persons include Joyeeta Basu, Sunil Gujral, Veenu Sandal, Tapan Chaki, Manzar Ali and Rachna Goel.
The women had told the court that they were extremely shocked and dismayed after reading Ramani’s tweets. They said Akbar’s reputation has been lowered in their eyes.
“Akbar’s impeccable reputation built over the years was tarnished and caused grave damage to his reputation by tweets and publications”, they said
The women have been closely associated with Akbar at a professional and personal level for many years.
M.J Akbar, who was in Nigeria when his name came up in a #MeToo thread on media. Most of the women had accused him of sexual harassment, who had to work with him during his days as an editor.
The women, who accused Akbar of sexual harassment, included Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul.
Several women had raised allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against the former Minister, even though Akbar filed a defamation case against Ramani alone.
The #MeToo campaign has taken over the media industry and has gathered momentum with each passing day as women are finally speaking about sexual harassment in public.