More than 100 Nobel laureates and other notable individuals have pleaded with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to halt her country’s ongoing legal action against economist Muhammad Yunus. Former US President Barack Obama, the 8th Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, and former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton all signed the letter on August 28. 104 Nobel laureates in physics, literature, chemistry, economics, and peace are among the signatories, along with 77 political officials, business executives, and members of civil society.
Earlier in March, 40 people had also written a letter regarding the safety of Yunus, including some of those in the letter of August. We think that these signatories are largely unaware of Dr. Yunus’ wrongdoings. Furthermore, we assume that prior to 1996-before the Awami League or Sheikh Hasina’s government’s first term-the majority of these signatories had little knowledge of Dr. Yunus.
Dr. Yunus’s success story lies along with the development of Grameen Bank. In October, 1983 the Grameen Bank was authorized by national legislation to operate as an independent bank. 25% of Grameen Bank is owned by the government as it is indeed a government bank and Dr. Yunus was the appointed top official of the bank.
After receiving the ownership of Grameen Phone, the business of Dr. Yunus flourished under the patronization of Sheikh Hasina. The Grameen Bank then grew into over two dozen enterprises. He and Grameen Bank gained widespread international attention in 2006 when they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. But this partnership between Dr. Yunus and Sheikh Hasina soon turned sour.
In 2007, during the illegal caretaker government, a movement by the political parties started to eliminate the two top leaders of BNP and Awami League, Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina respectively, from politics. Rather than standing by the side of his long term ally Sheikh Hasina, Dr. Yunus tried to capitalize on his Nobel winning image by forming a political party keeping top leaders of both Awami League and BNP in prison. He did not even provide a statement in support of Sheikh Hasina when she was arrested on false charges. In a personal forum, Sheikh Hasina even expressed her grief about the doing and intention of Dr. Yunus immediately before leaving the country in 2007. The act of Dr. Yunus created serious mistrust in Sheikh Hasina as she actually patronized Dr. Yunus him to the peak. Anyone can come into politics but trying to grab power eliminating Sheikh Hasina from politics was an ill ambition of Dr. Yunus.
Sheikh Hasina’s government came to power in 2009. Dr. Yunus could have taken initiative to clear the clouds and win back Sheikh Hasina but he did not. Rather, he kept creating further obstacles. Padma Bridge has been the dream project of Sheikh Hasina. In 2016-17, World Bank and other donor agencies pulled off from the project on an alleged corruption charge. Sheikh Hasina courageously decided to complete the project with self-finance and Padma Bridge is now a reality. Allegedly, Dr. Yunus with his bosom friend, the then foreign secretary of the US, Hillary Clinton conspired to stop the World Bank funding. Sheikh Hasina also talked about this conspiracy of Dr. Yunus on several occasions but he never provided a statement to clear off the allegations.
Awami League government began a review of Grameen Bank’s activities in 2011, and Yunus was found illegally holding the position of managing director violating government retirement regulations. He was proposed to become the Chief Advisor but he went to the court and eventually the court ordered him to be fired. He was later put on trial on several charges of irregularities, corruption and violation of labor laws. The court of Bangladesh is independently conducting the trial and like any other citizen, he will also receive his verdict on time. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina even offered the concerned global personalities to visit Bangladesh to observe the trial process of Dr. Yunus.
Though Dr. Yunus possess a Nobel Peace Prize, unfortunately, he was never found vocal or active in any national issue. During the recent Rohingya crisis, Dr. Yunus did not have any impactful activity to solve the crisis despite having influential friends. On other national issues also, he remains silent. He has become an international figure but he became global figure from his activity inside the national boundary. Despite that, he has very low contribution behind the development of Bangladesh and his success is mostly due to the patronization of Sheikh Hasina.
Dr. Yunus is not the first Nobel laureate to face trial or punishment. Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bilyatsky of Belarus was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2021 for alleged involvement in smuggling out cash to Belarus to fund opposition activities. Another Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San SuuKyi of Myanmar is currently in prison in the charges of abuse of power, religious incitement and corruption. In 2010, Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was jailed just a year before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Physics Prize winner John Robert Schrieffer received two-year jail sentence for killing one and injuring several others in a car accident.
Dr. Yunus’ involvement in the ‘minus two’ propaganda and his aspiration to rule Bangladesh in a totalitarian fashion were not only clear to all, but were also obvious. The accusations against him of anti-national lobbying, fund embezzlement, irregularities, not paying the workers’ dues etc. must be refuted because an evil mind is prone to evil things. After all, a Nobel Prize is not immunity from offenses and crimes.
A Nobel laureate is expected to contribute significantly in his area of expertise even after receiving the Nobel Prize. We expect the same from Dr. Yunus. It is true that, many politicians received Nobel Prize but no Nobel Prize winner freshly entered politics. Dr. Yunus’s political ambition using the Nobel-winning image has pushed him to even get engaged to anti-national and anti-sovereignty activities. He has disgraced himself by taking shelter of the West, who will use him for their own ill interest if he ever achieves political power. Hence, he should remain in his own field.
It is disgraceful that, Dr. Yunus, the third most significant personality of our nation after Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is tangled in legal proceedings for his wrongdoings. We hope Dr. Yunus realizes his mistakes and rather than lobbying to the Western influencers, he should apologize to Sheikh Hasina and strengthen her hands for the sake of the country’s development. We are still proud of Dr. Yunus’s achievement and we want to keep that pride intact.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla