MJ Akbar Case: Akbar’s Lawyer Asks People to Stop Live Tweeting
At the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja, MJ Akbar’s lawyer cross-examined Niloufer Venkatraman in the ongoing defamation hearing filed by Akbar against senior journalist Priya Ramani.
MJ Akbar was accused by several women of sexual harassment, assault, and even in one case, rape, in the wake of the #MeToo movement in October 2018. He, in turn, filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani, who had revealed in a tweet at the time that the beginning of an article she’d written the previous year was her #MeToo story about Akbar.
Niloufer Venkatraman is a friend of Ramani’s.
Live Tweeting Not Allowed?
Senior advocate Geeta Luthra began cross-questioning Niloufer Venkatraman by asking her how often she used Twitter.
Geeta Luthra: How active are you on Twitter? When were your last two tweets before October 2018?
Niloufer Venkatraman: I am not very active, I often read but don’t tweet. I probably tweeted a year before 2018.
Luthra went on to suggest that she is a ‘tutored witness’ because of all the ‘live media coverage’ of the hearing.
Geeta Luthra: When did you read the statement by Ramani before the court in this case?
Niloufer Venkatraman: I have not read any statement by Ramani before this court. I cannot say whether there has been verbatim reporting of the proceedings taking place in the court.
She denied the suggestion put to her by Luthra that she is a ‘tutored witness’.
Luthra went on to raise objections to live tweeting the proceedings. When the Judge asked if there have been any applications against it or if the people in court are using cameras to record the proceedings, Luthra refused.
The Judge eventually dismissed Luthra’s claim and said that that people can take notes.
‘No Mala Fide Intent’
After completing Venkatraman’s cross-examination, Luthra went on to complete Ramani’s cross-examination. Ramani denied having any ‘mala fide or malicious intent’ in calling out MJ Akbar.
“It is wrong to suggest that all the details of the alleged event described by me are a figment of my imagination and are a work of fiction. It is wrong to suggest that I had made the allegations against the complainant for oblique motive and not to empower women. It is wrong to suggest that I have mala fide and extraneous motive for making the allegations against Akbar.”
Luthra alleged that Ramani had purposely cropped the WhatsApp message that she had sent to Niloufer Venkatraman, which is now a part of the evidence. In her suggestion, she claimed that it was Ramani’s way of ‘tampering with the evidence’.
“I put to you that your screenshot of the WhatsApp messages is edited and the bottom of the screenshot has been cropped. In view of the fact that the text box has not been shown by you in the evidence (print out) given to the court, you have filed only a cropped version of the screenshot.”Geeta Luthra
Ramani denied the suggestion and showed the original message to the court.
She further reiterated the fact that she spoke out in ‘public good’ after which her cross-examination concluded.
“It is wrong to suggest that what I have done by publishing the tweets was wrong, defamatory and malicious, Ramani. It is wrong to suggest that it has harmed the reputation of the complainant. It is wrong to suggest that my tweets and publication had nothing to do with ‘doing the right thing’. It is wrong to suggest that I have deposed falsely.”
The matter will now be heard on 10 December.
What’s Happened So Far
Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment as the #MeToo campaign raged in India last year.
Ramani has already testified as the first defence witness in the case wherein she recalled the entire timeline of events since 1993 – right from her "uncomfortable" interview with Akbar to leaving his office and never working with him again.
Her friend Niloufer Venkatraman has testified as the second defence witness.
In the previous hearing, Venkatraman had recounted what Ramani had allegedly told her on the night of her 1993 interview with MJ Akbar.
“Priya called me on my landline. She sounded upset and distraught. I asked her why she sounded so upset. She told me that the interview hadn’t gone as we had expected. To begin with, it was not conducted in the coffee shop or lobby. Instead, she had been called upto Mr Akbar’s room where they were alone. She went on to describe her extremely uncomfortable details of what had happened a few hours earlier.”
On 23 August, Ramani had begun her statement under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the court and said, “I defend the truth spoken in public interest and for the public good. It is only now that sexual harassment at workplace is regarded as a serious offence.”
Akbar resigned as a Union Minister on 17 October 2018.
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