BANGLADESH: Renowned Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus, widely recognized for transforming millions of lives through his groundbreaking microfinance bank, has recently faced a conviction for violating Bangladesh’s labour laws—a case strongly criticized by his supporters as politically motivated.
The 83-year-old economist, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, has long been at odds with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, accusing him of exploiting the poor.
Prof Yunus and three colleagues from Grameen Telecom, a company he co-founded, were accused of failing to establish a workers’ welfare fund, leading to their conviction by a labour court in the capital, Dhaka.
Lead prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan declared a “six months’ simple imprisonment” for all four, yet they were promptly granted bail pending appeals. Yunus and his associates vehemently deny the charges.
The case is just one among over 100 other charges Yunus faces related to alleged labour law violations and corruption.
The renowned social entrepreneur maintains his innocence, stating that the numerous social business firms he established in Bangladesh were not for personal gain.
Supporters of Prof Yunus, including dozens who staged a small demonstration outside the court, were quick to denounce the verdict.
Abdullah Al Mamun, a lawyer for Prof Yunus, labelled the decision as “unprecedented” and claimed they did not receive justice.
Another of Yunus’s lawyers, Khaja Tanvir, asserted that the case was “meritless, false, and ill-motivated,” accusing the government of attempting to harass and humiliate the Nobel laureate on the global stage.
In his recent Facebook post on Tuesday (2 Jan), Prof Yunus reaffirmed his commitment, “I will continue to serve the people of Bangladesh and the social business movement to the best of my ability. ”
He asserted that the verdict against him contradicts “all legal precedent and logic. ”
“I call for the Bangladeshi people to speak in one voice against injustice and in favour of democracy and human rights for each and every one of our citizens.”
Amnesty International condemns Yunus conviction as symbol of human rights erosion in Bangladesh
The international community has expressed concern over what they perceive as a politically motivated campaign against Yunus.
In a statement, Amnesty International South Asia vehemently condemned Yunus’s conviction, asserting that it was “emblematic of the beleaguered state of human rights in Bangladesh, where the authorities have eroded freedoms and bulldozed critics into submission. ”
The group underscored the alarming expeditiousness of the trial against Muhammad Yunus, highlighting the glaring disparity compared to the sluggish progress seen in other labor rights-related court cases across Bangladesh.
“The abuse of labour laws and misuse of the justice system to settle political vendettas is a violation of international human rights law.”
Amnesty International firmly contended that bringing criminal charges against Muhammad Yunus and his colleagues for matters falling within the civil and administrative domains represents a clear abuse of both labour laws and the judicial process.
They characterized this action as a retaliatory measure against Yunus’s impactful work and dissent, severely undermining the principles of justice and fairness.
Irene Khan, a former chief of Amnesty International now serving as a UN special rapporteur, called the conviction “a travesty of justice.”
She criticized the persecution of a social activist and Nobel laureate who, she argued, had brought honour and pride to the country.
In August, 160 global figures, including former US President Barack Obama and ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, penned a joint letter condemning the “continuous judicial harassment” faced by Yunus.
More than 100 fellow Nobel laureates joined the statement, expressing fears for his safety and freedom.
Critics argue that Bangladeshi courts are rubber-stamping decisions made by Prime Minister Hasina’s government.
With elections looming, Hasina’s administration has been accused of a crackdown on political dissent, with Yunus perceived as a potential rival.
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