Indian minister sues woman alleging sexual harassment for defamation

Congress party workers shout slogans as they protest against minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar for his alleged sexual misconduct and harassment of journalists, during a protest in New Delhi, India, on Oct 15, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Indian government minister M.J. Akbar filed a defamation suit on Monday (Oct 15) against one of at least 10 women who have accused him of sexual harassment, calling her allegations false and malicious.

The lawsuit, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, names journalist Priya Ramani as the sole accused and says that she "intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious" allegations to harm his reputation.

In a tweet late on Monday, Ramani said she is ready to fight the defamation allegation "as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence".

The lawsuit comes amid widespread calls on social media for Akbar's resignation from his post as India's minister of state for external affairs.

Akbar, 67, a veteran editor who founded many publications, has been accused of a range of inappropriate behaviour by female journalists.

Many have called for Akbar to be sacked and have threatened to boycott events he is attending until he resigns.

More than 200 protesters of the youth wing of the opposition Congress party waved placards and chanted slogans near Akbar's Delhi house on Monday. Some jumped barricades and clashed with police and dozens were detained, a Reuters witness said.

Akbar is one of the highest-profile figures so far to face accusations in India's burgeoning #MeToo movement.

Several powerful men from the worlds of media, entertainment and the arts have already been snared in sexual harassment and assault allegations, which have led to a string of ousters.

Now a high-profile sports figure, the chief executive of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Rahul Johri, has also been accused of sexual misconduct - in an anonymous Tweet that recounts an allegation of a sexual assault at his house.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has since asked BCCI not to send Johri to an upcoming ICC meeting, two officials directly aware of the matter told Reuters on Monday.

The sport's global governing body is set to a host a two-day meeting with chief executives of the governing bodies of cricketing nations in Singapore this week. Johri had been due to attend.

"The world governing body had a chat with the BCCI about the matter yesterday," said one of the sources, adding the BCCI's acting secretary, Amitabh Chaudhary, would attend the meeting.

The sources declined to be named, as they are not authorised to discuss the matter publicly. Johri did not respond to calls or messages seeking comment. The ICC and BCCI declined to comment.

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