Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate recognized globally by economists and civil society activists for his work in providing microloans to the impoverished who lack access to traditional banking, is facing increasing criticism and potential imprisonment in his home country, Bangladesh.
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Bangladesh's Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has consistently criticized Yunus, labeling him a "bloodsucker" of the poor due to his loan repayment methods, and even attributing the World Bank's 2012 decision to pull out of a key bridge project to him. Recently, Yunus and his colleagues at Grameen Telecom—a separate entity from Grameen Bank, his groundbreaking microfinance institution—have been brought to trial for alleged labor law violations.
A little over a week ago, Bangladesh's supreme court dismissed an appeal from Yunus, allowing the case against him to continue. His daughter, Monica Yunus, who heads a New York-based nonprofit called Sing for Hope, stated on LinkedIn on Aug. 28 that Hasina has threatened to arrest Yunus without bail in the coming weeks. If found guilty, Yunus could face a minimum of six months in jail.
These developments come just months before Hasina runs for her fifth term. Observers of Bangladeshi politics speculate that Yunus' 2006 Nobel win and his establishment of a competing political party in 2007 have irked Hasina. With elections on the horizon, she has launched a full-scale offensive.
"Hasina's envy and malice are limitless—she has regularly threatened him over the past 15 years. With the upcoming elections in January, she has escalated her public attacks against him by making unfounded allegations that have now led to court cases. A week ago, the Supreme Court in Bangladesh dismissed an appeal, indicating a real risk of my father's imminent arrest."
—Monica Yunus on LinkedIn
2008: Hasina assumes power.
2011: Yunus is forcibly ousted from Grameen Bank, which he founded, due to retirement age regulations in 2011. He contested and lost a legal battle against this.
2013: Yunus is put on trial, accused of receiving money from abroad without government approval, including his Nobel Prize money and book royalties.
September 2021: A labor law violations case is lodged against executives of Grameen Telecom, including Yunus.
May 2023: A high court commands Yunus to pay 120 million taka ($1.2 million) in taxes for his charitable contributions to three trusts, shortly after Bangladesh's anti-corruption watchdog files a lawsuit against him for allegedly misappropriating more than $2 million from the Grameen Telecom employees' welfare fund.
August 2023: The trial for the labor law violations case commences on Aug. 22. The charges against the Grameen Telecom executives include failure to make permanent the positions of 101 employees and to set up a workers’ welfare fund. Eighteen former Grameen Telecom employees also sue Yunus for "misappropriating" dividends.
176: The number of signatories on an open letter to Hasina, including over 100 Nobel laureates and world leaders like former US president Barack Obama and ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, demanding an end to the "continuous judicial harassment" of Yunus. The letter was published as a full-page ad in the international edition of the New York Times yesterday (Aug. 31).
"A million dollars": The estimated cost of a "two-page" ad with several global signatories, published in the Washington Post on March 7 in support of Yunus, according to a Bangladesh minister.
$83,430: The actual cost of a single A-7 page ad in the Washington Post, based on the per-column-inch rate of $927 for a full-page ad, according to the Washington Post. Furthermore, the Protect Yunus Campaign "negotiated a significant discount below this published amount," it revealed.
In May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new visa policy "to support Bangladesh's objective of conducting free, fair, and peaceful national elections." Under this policy, the US can limit visa issuance to any Bangladeshi who undermines the democratic election process in the country, including members of pro-government political parties, law enforcement, judiciary, and security services.
⚖️ 176 world leaders and Nobel laureates call on Bangladesh to stop legal proceedings against Peace Prize recipient
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📢 Freedom of speech is being threatened in Bangladesh