The global leaders supporting Yunus are not villains
It's quite intriguing to see that the attack aimed at Bangladesh's Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus has turned into a campaign against more than a hundred laureates and global figures. It all started after they issued a statement expressing concerns about alleged judicial harassment of Prof Yunus, as well as threats to democracy and human rights. The campaign is particularly at odds with the prime minister's offer to welcome international experts and lawyers to visit Bangladesh and assess legal proceedings centring Yunus.
Following the statement, local authorities condemned the global leaders, saying that the latter have attacked "Bangladesh's legal system and judiciary." Some of the reactions are hysterical. For example, the vice chancellor of the country's top educational institution, Dhaka University, has gone to the extent of terming those global personalities "people without principles."
Criticising others is a right we all have, but the criticisms must be based on facts, instead of on hearsay or personal beliefs; they have to be respectful and cannot denigrate others. We seem to have forgotten that questioning outsiders, who are calling to stop prosecution and allow international scrutiny, is as justifiable as recognising their right to criticise us. While we are rebuking the laureates for speaking on supposedly sub judice matters (although they have not spoken about the contested facts), we are taking liberty to convict Prof Yunus through a media trial, disregarding the judicial process.
We seem to have forgotten that questioning outsiders, who are calling to stop prosecution and allow international scrutiny, is as justifiable as recognising their right to criticise us. While we are rebuking the laureates for speaking on supposedly sub judice matters (although they have not spoken about the contested facts), we are taking liberty to convict Prof Yunus through a media trial, disregarding the judicial process.
For a long time, we have been hearing that he is a usurer, despite the fact that our banking system is based on interests. Now, he is being called a tax evader, even though he hasn't been charged with a tax-related offence. Disputes over payable taxes are nothing unusual, and it was Yunus who sought legal solution for a dispute over taxes on gifts. There's not a single complaint against his personal income tax, and there's no case pending on this issue in any court of Bangladesh. Calling him a tax evader is nothing but slander.
His greater legal troubles, however, are issues related to labour law. But, once again, despite all his cases being under deliberation at different courts, a large section of the media has already started labelling him as an exploiter of workers. All these concerted campaigns are creating an environment where any possibility of an impartial trial would disappear. In the era of globalisation and technology, no one can be unaware of such a worrying development. Hence, it is quite natural that other Nobel laureates and those who admire Prof Yunus' two unique and successful development experimentations – microcredit and social business – would be feeling extremely concerned.
Those who have objected to the term "judicial harassment" should consider a few facts and then decide whether this accusation constitutes interference in the judicial process. For starters, filing multiple cases for violations of a law means multiplying the suffering of the accused, instead of settling disputes based on one verdict. Secondly, it's extremely rare that a court, of its own volition, orders a fresh probe and legal proceedings on a case that has been settled by another court, with all parties having accepted the resolution. This fresh investigation was ordered on June 29, 2022, after the aggrieved parties received their payments according to the settlement.
Although the government claims it has nothing to do with Prof Yunus' legal peril and that all this is the result of litigations brought by affected employees, the facts state a different story. Court documents state that an inspection of Grameen Telecom was ordered by the authorities. Following that inspection, an inspector of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments filed a case with a labour court.
Can anyone blame those leaders – who have excelled in their respective professions and earned global recognition – for seeing the series of actions initiated by the government as "legal harassment?" No wonder Deputy Attorney General Imran Ahmed Bhuiyan refused to join the frenzy. Imran told the media, "I support the statement issued by the Nobel laureates and world leaders about the trial proceedings against Muhammad Yunus, as I think that he is being harassed." There's no reason to doubt his sincerity, as he knows it better than all of us that speaking out can have serious consequences.
It's also perplexing to witness the authorities' silence regarding other concerns the global leaders have raised, namely of human rights and free, fair elections. We need to remind ourselves that our standing in the global index of law and order is at 127th among 140 countries, and Bangladesh has been categorised as an "electoral autocracy."
Kamal Ahmed is an independent journalist. His X handle is @ahmedka1