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Patiala House court was on Friday told by three witnesses that MJ Akbar, the editor-turned-politician who was forced to quit as minister in the NDA government following multiple charges of molestation and even rape by scores of women, was in fact “a fine gentleman, a hard working professional and… a person of high integrity”.

The testimonies came when the criminal defamation case filed by the BJP MP against Priya Ramani was taken up for hearing before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal. After hearing three witnesses, the court fixed January 11 as the next date for recording of statements of rest of the witnesses in the case against Ramani.

Witness Sunil Gujral, a warehouse businessman based in Delhi who claimed to have known Akbar since 1979-80 and was also a partner of Akbar told the court that in all the years he has known Akbar, he never heard any whisper regarding misconduct or misbehaviour of any kind. He said Ramani’s charges came as a shock to him and left him disturbed and had come out in support of Akbar taking into consideration the “that irreparable damage done to Akbar reputation in my estimation as well as in estimation of my friend circle and acquaintances.” The testimonies of the other two also went along similar lines.

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.

The 67-year-old former editor responded by suing Ramani, who sparked off the barrage of allegations, for criminal defamation in a Delhi court.

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”.

Akbar has also been accused of rape by Pallavi Gogoi, the chief business editor of National Public Radio (NPR), a Washington-based American media organisation. She detailed the “most painful memories” of her life in an article in The Washington Post, accusing Akbar, the editor-in-chief of the The Asian Age newspaper at that time, of using his position to prey on her 23 years ago.

Joyeeta Basu, the editor of Sunday Guardian, was one of the first witnesses to testify in the case on November 12. She had said Ramani posted all her tweets “intentionally with a purpose to harm” Akbar’s “reputation and goodwill”.

She 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.

There are six witnesses, including Basu, from Akbar’s side.

—India Legal Bureau

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