MJ Akbar is a brilliant teacher and thorough professional: Woman journalist tells court in #MeToo row

New Delhi: Former journalist and minister MJ Akbar is a tough taskmaster, a thorough professional and a brilliant teacher, his former colleague Joyeeta Basu, editor of Sunday Guardian, told a Delhi court during the hearing of the editor’s defamation case against a journalist who has accused him of sexual harassment in the #MeToo campaign.

Basu said journalist Priya Ramani – the first to come out with her account of sexual harassment by Akbar – posted all her tweets “intentionally with a purpose to harm” former Union minister MJ Akbar’s “reputation and goodwill”.

Also read: ‘A lie it is’: MJ Akbar’s wife supports minister after he terms rape allegation as ‘consensual relationship’

Basu was one of the first witnesses to testify in the case of criminal defamation complaint filed by Akbar against Ramani with the additional chief metropolitan magistrate Samar Vishal in the Patiala House district court.

Joyeeta Basu is one of the six witnesses the 67-year-old has named in the lawsuit that he filed a day after stepping down as Union minister in the Narendra Modi government amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

Basu said she has worked with Akbar for 20 years and had not heard anything untoward from the staff of the organisation where they worked together. He was a public figure who was held in high esteem, she said.

Also read: ‘He forced his tongue into my mouth’: Woman who was harassed by Akbar when she was an 18-yr-old intern

“I may have overcome my doubts but I know from the number of questions raised by people I know, his reputation has been destroyed and damaged irrevocably. After reading all the tweets by Ms Priya Ramani, I believe that this vilification was conducted and the tweets published intentionally by Ms Ramani with the purpose to harm Mr Akbar’s good reputation and goodwill,” she told the court, defending Akbar.

Basu said that she was “shocked, disappointed, embarrassed” to see Priya Ramani’s tweets against Akbar and “in spite of my experience with him, his image, his reputation took a beating in my eyes on reading these tweet/article.”

“It was aggravated during my interaction with friends and colleagues who had read and heard about the widely publicised tweets and articles and asked me whether he was really like that? They questioned his character and said that his image has taken a severe beating and had been lowered in their eyes. They said that his reputation had been permanently damaged as far as they were concerned,” she said.

Basu said she had known Akbar since 1998 and had not heard “anything untoward” from staff wherever they had worked together. “I considered him to be a brilliant journalist, a scholarly writer and a thorough gentleman with an impeccable reputation in my eyes and in the eyes of the public,” she told the court.

Akbar stepped down as the minister of state for external affairs in October after Ramani and a number of other women accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour at various stages of his journalistic career.

Also read: MJ Akbar ripped off my clothes and raped me, says US-based journalist

Dismissing all the allegations, the former editor of The Telegraph, Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age newspapers, had said that these were “malicious, fabricated and salacious” intended to harm his reputation.

Ramani has said she is “ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence”.

The court has summoned another witness Habibur Rehman to testify for the next date of hearing on December 7.