DHAKA: Just a few days before the general election in Bangladesh, which is scheduled for January 7, Nobel Peace laureate and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus was sentenced to six months in jail for violation of labour laws. Critics say the trial is politically motivated.
Yunus supporters and critics of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government alleged this to be dirty political retaliation to tarnish the reputation of an internationally recognised man who won the peace prize in 2006 for standing by the poor.
Ahead of the Bangladesh parliamentary elections on Sunday, the opposition and rights groups say the vote can be neither free nor fair and accuse the current government of carrying out a brutal crackdown and arbitrarily jailing thousands of opposition party leaders and activists.
“Professor Yunus and three of his Grameen Telecom colleagues were convicted under labour laws and sentenced to six months of simple imprisonment,” lead prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told the AFP news agency. “All four were immediately granted bail pending appeals.”
Grameen Telecom owns 34% of Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The Nobel laureate, in a statement on Monday, called the verdict “contrary to all legal precedent and logic” and called upon Bangladeshis to speak in “one voice against injustice.”
“I have been punished for a crime that I haven’t committed,” Yunus told reporters after the hearing. “If you want to call it justice, you can.”
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, 83, known as ‘Banker to the Poor’, is said to be facing more than 150 cases, according to the Indian Express and other media. In 2015, he was summoned by Bangladesh’s revenue authorities for non-payment of taxes amounting to $1.51 million. Two years before that, he was put on trial for allegedly receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book. In 2011, Yunus was removed as managing director of Grameen Bank for allegedly violating government retirement regulations.
Sheikh Hasina, the longtime prime minister, accused him of “sucking blood” from poor people and using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as the head of Grameen Bank.
Some critics and social media users responded to Hasina`s statement by saying, “The dictator of Bangladesh is the one sucking the lifeblood of Bangladeshis, not this guy (Yunus).”
In 2006, Yunus and Grameen Bank jointly received the Nobel Prize in Peace “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.” Grameen Bank is credited with lifting millions from poverty; it has disbursed collateral-free loans of $34.01 billion among 9.55 million people since its inception, the Daily Sun, a Bangladesh-based national daily, reported last year. The recovery rate is 97.22%, reports said.
Yunus told reporters he had not profited from any of the more than 50 social business firms he had set up in Bangladesh.
“They were not for my personal benefit,” Yunus said.
In response to critics, Hasina said she welcomed international experts to assess the ongoing legal proceedings against Yunus, and the Bangladeshi government claims, “No one is above the law.”
Meanwhile, reports claim that there are concerns over free and fair elections in Bangladesh. The international community is concerned about the conduct of the Bangladesh elections, with the European Union not sending a full observer team.
The military is being deployed to monitor the elections amid fears of violence.
– Malaysia World News