Bangladesh sentences Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to jail

A Bangladeshi court has given the Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus a six-month prison term for breaking the country’s labour laws.

Prof Yunus’ backers say the case is driven by political motives.

The renowned economist and three associates from Grameen Telecom – one of the companies he founded – were convicted of failing to set up a welfare fund for their employees.

All four reject any wrongdoing and have been released on bail while they appeal.

“This verdict against me goes against all legal logic and precedent,” Prof Yunus said in a statement issued after the verdict.
“I urge the Bangladeshi people to unite against injustice and in support of democracy and human rights for each and every one of our citizens.”

The 83-year-old Yunus, who is known worldwide as the “banker to the poor”, is praised for creating a groundbreaking system of micro-finance loans that helped millions escape poverty.

Prof Yunus and his Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize together for their innovative work in 2006.

One of his lawyers, Abdullah Al Mamun, told the BBC: “It was an unprecedented judgement. The case was not handled with due legal process and it was hurried through.”

Mr Mamun added: “The whole idea is to tarnish his global reputation. We are challenging this verdict.”

Prof Yunus’s lawyers say he is facing more than 100 other charges over labour law breaches and alleged corruption.

Ms Hasina once called Prof Yunus a “leech” of the poor and accused Grameen Bank of imposing excessive interest rates.

Irene Khan – the former chief of rights group Amnesty International who works as a UN special envoy – was present at Monday’s verdict. She told the AFP news agency the conviction was “a mockery of justice”.

In August, more than 170 global personalities urged Ms Hasina to end the “persecution” of Prof Yunus.

The letter, whose signatories included former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and U2 lead singer Bono, requested that the “constant judicial harassment” of Prof Yunus be stopped.

Ms Hasina said she welcomed international experts to evaluate the ongoing legal actions against Prof Yunus.

The cause of the conflict between Ms Hasina and Prof Yunus is unclear, but supporters of the economist said the government was trying to discredit him because he once thought of forming a political party to compete with the ruling Awami League.

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