New Delhi: The Patiala House Court on Thursday took cognizance of the criminal defamation suit filed by former minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani over her allegations of sexual harassment.

Akbar, who resigned from his post on Wednesday, will have to appear in court on 31 October for pre-summoning evidence. He and other witnesses will record their statements before the court, after which Ramani may be summoned.

“I have gone through the complaint and annexed documents. The court takes cognizance of the case under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Let the matter be fixed for examination of complainant and pre-summoning evidence on 31st October at noon", additional chief metropolitan magistrate Samar Vishal said.

Senior advocate Geeta Luthra representing Akbar, a former journalist, told the court that Ramani’s tweets had been widely circulated and retweeted and were “clearly defamatory".

She said they had caused “irreparable damage" to his reputation built over many years.

“His reputation has been lowered before journalists, friends and others. People read the tweets and it affects his reputation," Luthra submitted.

After Mint columnist Ramani, the first woman journalist to publicly accuse Akbar of sexual harassment, several other women have spoken up, narrating similar experiences. Akbar, who was travelling in Africa the allegations surfaced, filed a criminal defamation case on his return.

The suit, seeking relief under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, was filed by senior partner Sandeep Kapur of Karanjawala & Co. The plea contended that irreparable damage had been done to his reputation. Akbar resigned on Wednesday, vowing to challenge the accusations in his personal capacity.

“The scandalous allegations levelled by the accused, by the very tone and tenor are ex-facie defamatory and have not only damaged the goodwill and reputation of the complainant in his social circles and on the political stage but affected his personal reputation in the community, friends, family," Akbar’s petition said.

The complaint listed instances of the alleged defamatory statements made by Ramani being circulated through print and electronic media, as well as Twitter.

Ramani tweeted a statement on Monday that she was ready to fight the case.

After Ramani, more than 12 women have recounted instances of alleged sexual misconduct by Akbar. These include journalists Ghazala Wahab, Suparna Sharma, Harinder Baweja, Anju Bharti and Kanika Gahlaut.

In a joint statement, 20 women journalists who worked with Asian Age - the publication which Akbar edited for 15 years -- have pledged to testify against him in court.

The accusations first surfaced in a Twitter post by Ramani on 8 October as Akbar began his trip to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. Ramani named Akbar as the editor she had alluded to in an article in Vogue magazine on sexual harassment at the workplace in October 2017. Without identifying Akbar, she had detailed alleged unwarranted advances made by him 20 years ago when she was 23.

Later, through the week, several other women journalists made public their stories of alleged misconduct by Akbar amid a barrage of accusations in India’s #MeToo movement, which singed prominent names in India’s media and entertainment industries.

On Sunday, Akbar questioned the timing of the allegations, “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge," he said, referring to the elections to be held in five states—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana—starting 12 November. India is also to go to national polls in 2019.

Also read: Opinion | How the #MeToo movement has changed the equation