A Court in Bangladesh has sentenced Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws. The 83-year-old Yunus known internationally as the “baker to the poor” is credited with establishing a pioneering system of micro-finance loans helping millions out of poverty. He and his Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their pioneering work in the year 2006.
However, supporters of Muhammad Yunus have said that the case is politically motivated. The acclaimed economist and three colleagues from Grameen Telecom, one of the firms which was founded by Yunus himself were found guilty of failing to create a welfare fund for their workers. All four deny any wrongdoing and have been granted bail pending appeals.
Statement of Defence
“As my lawyers have convincingly argued in court, this verdict against me is contrary to all legal precedent and logic, Professor Yunus said in a statement released after the verdict. “I call for the Bangladeshi people to speak in one voice against injustice and in favor of democracy and human rights for each and every one of our citizens,” he said.
Charges on Yunus
Discussing the verdict, one of his lawyers Abdullah Al Mamun told an international media agency, “It was an unprecedented judgment. No due legal processes were followed in the case and it was rushed through.” The lawyers of Professor Yunus say that he is facing around 100 charges over labor law violations and alleged graft Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina once described Yunus as the “bloodsucker of the poor” and Grameen Bank of charging exorbitant interest rates.
Opposition to Yunus Arrest
Irene Khan, the former head of the rights organisation Amnesty International who works as a UN Special Rapporteur was present during the verdict on January 1, 2024. She told an international media agency that the conviction was a travesty of justice. In August 2023, more than 170 global figures called on Sheikh Hasina to stop the persecution of Muhammad Yunus.
Signatories such as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and U2 lead singer Bono asked that the “continuous judicial harassment” of Professor Yunus be stopped. Even Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina said she welcomed international experts to assess the ongoing situation and legal proceedings against Professor Yunus.
Alleged Political Rifts
It is not clear what led to the friction between Shiekh Hasina and Professor Muhammad Yunus, but the supporters of the economist said the government was attempting to discredit him because he once considered the formation of another political party to rival the governing Awami League.