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Despite global protests, Nobel laureate Yunus 'again targeted' by Bangladesh govt

By Nava Thakuria* 
Bangladesh’s lone Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, who is serving as the chairman of Grameen Telecom, appeared before the anti-corruption commission (ACC) in Dhaka on 5 October 2023, as he was summoned over the alleged misappropriation of funds meant for the workers’ benefit. A few others close to Prof Yunus were also summoned to appear before the commission. 
In a brief response to local reporters, Prof Yunus stated that he had done no wrong and hence nothing to be worried about. Globally recognised as the pioneer of microfinance and social business enterprises, Prof Yunus reposed full faith in the judiciary of Bangladesh.
Needless to mention that it was one of the latest attempts by highest level individuals in the Bangla government to malign the image of the soft spoken gentleman. Recently more than 175 global leaders including Nobel laureates, elected officials, business and civil society leaders urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Prof Yunus. 
It was preceded by another letter, endorsed by 40 global personalities, to Hasina regarding her government’s ill treatment of him. Even 34 eminent Bangladeshi nationals also came forward raising voices for Prof Yunus asserting that Hasina, who will seek the mandate of 130 million Bangladeshi voters in the forthcoming national elections for her fourth consecutive term in office, continued using hostilities against the most awarded Bangladeshi gentleman.
Recently, the United Nations human rights office also issued a statement supporting Prof Yunus saying that it was worried over smear campaigns against him. It was followed by a statement from Amnesty International, where they asserted that Hasina was ‘weaponizing labour laws’ to harass and intimidate Prof Yunus. 
The international body argued that Prof Yunus, being the chairman of Grameen Telecom management authority, has been falsely accused of employment-related violations. He along with three board members (Ashraful Hasan, Nur Jahan Begum and Mohammad Shahjahan) are facing a criminal case under the country's labour laws.
“The ongoing trial is just one of more than 150 cases filed against Prof Yunus after the ruling Awami League party came into power in 2008. Amnesty International believes that initiating criminal proceedings against Prof Yunus and his colleagues for issues that belong to the civil and administrative arena is a blatant abuse of labour laws and the justice system and a form of political retaliation for his work and dissent. His case is emblematic of the beleaguered state of human rights in Bangladesh, where the authorities have eroded freedoms and bulldozed critics into submission,” said a statement.
It is time for the Bangladesh government to put an end to this travesty of justice, said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, adding that the government’s relentless smear campaign against Prof Yunus shows the desperate lengths the current regime is willing to go to set an example through the hounding of an 83-year-old Nobel laureate. 
It is time Bangladesh govt puts an end to travesty of justice, said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International
Those violating labour rights must undoubtedly be held accountable, however rather than misusing labour laws and criminal justice to harass Prof Yunus, the authorities should focus on combatting extensive threats to labour rights such as unsafe factories which continue to claim the lives of thousands of Bangladeshi workers, she added.
The question that arises here is, why Hasina is so aggressive against the global campaigner for a poverty free world. First assumption was that Hasina herself wants recognition (preferably with a Nobel award) for her ‘excellent’ works since 2008. Lately, the civil society embraces speculation that the combined opposition parties (led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party) may project Prof Yunus as their leader in the forthcoming polls. 
Needless to mention that Prof Yunus tried to form a political party (Nagarik Shakti) in 2007, but abandoned the idea quickly. However, Hasina and her supporters still assume Prof Yunus as a powerful rival to her political career. So she continues maligning Prof Yunus on every possible occasion.
As the country goes to general elections in the next few months, the apprehension of erupting violence continues, as the opposition alliance is still demanding Hasina’s resignation for the sake of a free and fair election in Bangladesh. They are demanding for a neutral caretaker administration in Dhaka to conduct the forthcoming elections, so that the ruling Awami League can not rig the polls. 
Otherwise, they may boycott the national election, as they did in 2014 and 2018. Hasina has already made it clear that she will not resign, thus paving the way for a series of street protests (often turning violent) by the opposition parties across Bangladesh in the coming days.
---
*Senior journalist based in Guwahati

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