Global leaders’ interference in Dr Yunus’ verdict disrupts our sovereignty

Published : Tuesday, 6 February, 2024 at 12:00 AM
Grameen Telecom Chairman Dr Muhammad Yunus have been sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined Tk30,000 in a case filed on charges of violating labor law on January 1.
Over 241 global leaders including more than 125 Nobel Laureates expressed their intent to examine the labor law case whose verdict was already delivered. But this interference of the foreigners in the trial of Dr Yunus is considered as a threat towards the sovereignty of the nation as well as freedom of the judiciary.

Dr Muhammad Yunus is a prominent businessman of Bangladesh. He has around 8 profit-based organizations including Gramen Phone, Grameen Capital Management Ltd., Grameen Knitwear Ltd. etc. and 16 non-profit organizations including Grameen Telecom, Grameen Trust, Grameen Shakti, Grameen Fund etc. He is the chairman and founder of these organizations. As a businessman, he needs to abide by the corporate laws of Bangladesh. The cases filed against him are due to malpractices in his organizations and his 2006 Nobel Peace Prize does not give him immunity from those intentional or unintentional violations.

In 2010, a Norwegian documentary alleged that USD96 million had been diverted from Grameen Bank but Dr Yunus was able to clear the clouds. All 110 cases filed against Dr Yunus and Grameen Telecom was withdrawn by the latters 176 employees after they reached a settlement over the claim of Tk437 crore as due payments in May, 2022. The High Court had found Dr Yunus guilty of tax evasion and ordered him to pay over Tk15 crore to the National Board of Revenue on May 31 last year. After the courts verdict he actually started paying those taxes, acknowledging his guilt.

Just like the tax evasion case, the recent labor law case demands a payment of around Tk25.22 crore from Grameen Telecom to the Workers Profit Participation Fund (WPPF). If Dr Yunus or Grameen Telecom agreed to pay that amount to the WPPF, then there was no need for this case. But Dr Yunus has made a habit to visit the court and make a wrong impression to the world that a Nobel Laureate is being harassed in Bangladesh.Recently, in a third open letter, published at the US newspaper Washington Post as an advertisement, to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the global leaders including several Nobel Laureates expressed their anxiety over the continuous judicial harassment and potential jailing of Dr Yunus. Looking for a resolution, the global leaders including Nobel Laureate and 44th President of the US Barack Obama, former US Vice President Al Gore, former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, accepted an invitation made by PM Hasina, who told a news conference at the end of August 2023 that the signers of two previous letters, sent in March and August 2023, should send experts, including lawyers, to go through all the documents of Professor Yunus and his cases to see if there is any wrongdoing or wrongful prosecution.

Here the question is why these concerned global leaders were silent when Dr Yunus or his organization was found guilty in previous lawsuits as he acknowledged his mistakes and followed the courts orders. Moreover, notably, the PMs invitation was for the trial period. Now, after the verdict, it is a completely different matter. Moreover, the court may also feel embarrassed in the presence of so many global leaders.

Dr Yunus on several occasions claimed that the government rather than the workers of his company filed the labor law violation case. Truly, the case was filed by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), whose responsibility is to protect the rights of workers. Here we want to mention that, Dr Yunus dreamt of coming into politics in 2007 eliminating the top two leaders of the country – Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia – from politics. Hence, Dr Yunus and his lawyers always try to justify their wrongdoings under political light, which depicts their ill intentions.

Dr. Yunuss success story lies with Grameen Bank. Initially, of the total equity of the bank, the government owned 60% in 1983 and now it is 25%. Dr Yunus was the appointed top official of the bank. Dr Yunus and Grameen Bank received heavy patronization from former finance ministers Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, M Syeduzzaman, M Saifur Rahman and Shah A M S Kibria along with former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and most importantly current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina due to its scope to improve women empowerment.

When Sheikh Hasina came into power for the first time in 1996, she saw Dr Yunus and Grameen Bank as a mean to improve the condition of the rural women. Grameen Bank was a fading organization at that time. Sheikh Hasina allocated special fund for Grameen Bank to rejuvenate the organization and also provided ownership of Grameen Phone, countrys largest mobile phone operator, to Grameen Telecom with a promise to utilize that to empower rural women, which actually lead towards Dr Yunus winning of Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Sheikh Hasina though took a heavy hit as protests were made against her for making the women eabru (shameless) through Grameen Bank. That protest even contributed towards Sheikh Hasinas defeat in 2000 national elections. Unfortunately, though Dr Yunus highest cash-making venture Grameen Phone was a gift to him by Sheikh Hasina, even in his recent audacious speech, Dr Yunus claimed Grameen Phone to be his achievement rather than acknowledging Sheikh Hasinas contribution.

In 2007, during the illegal caretaker government, Dr Yunus tried to capitalize on his Nobel winning image by forming a political party, Nagarik Shakti, using the Minus Two formula. He did not even provide a statement in support of Sheikh Hasina when she was arrested on false charges.

Sheikh Hasinas government came to power in 2009. Dr Yunus could have taken initiative to clear the clouds but he did not. Rather, he kept creating further obstacles by removing funding of World Bank and other donor agencies from Padma Bridge project on an alleged corruption charge with the help of his bosom friend, the then foreign secretary of the US, Hillary Clinton. Sheikh Hasina 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 Banks 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. There were several allegations of irregularities, corruption and violation of labor laws against him or his organizations over the years. The court of Bangladesh independently conducted the trial and like any other citizen, he also received his verdict.

Dr Yunus is not the first Nobel laureate to face trial or punishment. Nobel winner Ales Bilyatsky of Belarus was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2021. American Nobel winner John Robert Schrieffer received two-year jail sentence. Iranian rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi, Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and German Journalist Carl von Ossietzky won the Nobel Prize whilst behind bars.

Dr Yunus is a silent observer when it comes to the nations issues. During the recent Rohingya crisis, Dr Yunus did not have any impactful activity despite having influential friends. He never provides any message on our festivals or special days. He has become an international figure through his activity inside the national boundary. Despite that, he has very low contribution behind the development of Bangladesh and he never publicly acknowledged the huge development of the country.

It is Dr Yunus responsibility to highlight Bangladeshs progress to the world being a Nobel Laureate. But he only highlights his or his organizations contribution. His portrayal of negative image of Bangladesh to the world is his greatest offense. Today, from being a teacher, he has become a billionaire at the expense of the poor, deceiving the government, and depriving the nation of its treasures.

Dr Yunus involvement in the minus two propaganda and his aspiration to rule Bangladesh in a totalitarian fashion were clear to all. We hope Dr Yunus realizes his mistakes and rather than lobbying to the Western influencers, he should honor the verdict of the court and also apologize to Sheikh Hasina and strengthen her hands for the sake of the countrys development.

Truly, the demand of foreign leaders to stop the trial and verdict of any ongoing case is not only interference in the judiciary but also an attack on the sovereignty of an independent country. Dr Yunus and the global leaders must not threaten our sovereignty and rule of law. Rule of law will persist for everyone.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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