160 heavyweights decry 'judicial harassment', call to 'suspend' proceedings

More than 160 global leaders, including over 100 Nobel Laureates, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing their deep concern about the safety and well-being of Prof. Muhammad Yunus - the country's first and only Nobel Laureate.

Addressed directly to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the letter is signed by Nobel Prize laureates, elected officials, business figures, and civil society leaders. The signatories applaud Bangladesh's remarkable progress since its independence in 1971.

However, their collective concern arises from the "perceived threats to democracy and human rights" that have recently emerged within the country.

"We write to you as Nobel Prize laureates, elected officials, and business and civil society leaders, and as friends of Bangladesh. We admire how your nation has made laudable progress since its independence in 1971," the letter signed by, among others, Barack Obama, Jose Ramos-Horta, Mary Robinson, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Shirin Ebadi, Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad, Maria Ressa, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Juan Manuel Santos, Ban Ki-moon, Laura Boldrini, Bono, and Sir Richard Branson, reads.

In the letter, the signatories called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to conduct the upcoming national election in a free, transparent and fair manner.

"However, we are deeply concerned by the threats to democracy and human rights that we have observed in Bangladesh recently. We believe that it is of the utmost importance that the upcoming national election be free and fair, and that the administration of the election be acceptable to all major parties in the country. The previous two national elections lacked legitimacy," it says.

Calling the legal proceedings against Dr Mohammad Yunus "judicial harassment", the signatories called for an immediate suspension of the current judicial proceedings against him.

"One of the threats to human rights that concern us in the present context is the case of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. We are alarmed that he has recently been targeted by what we believe to be continuous judicial harassment, the letter reads.

"We respectfully ask that you immediately suspend the current judicial proceedings against Professor Yunus, followed by a review of the charges by a panel of impartial judges drawn from within your nation with some role for internationally recognized legal experts. We are confident that any thorough review of the anti-corruption and labor law cases against him will result in his acquittal."

This latest letter was a follow up to an earlier letter sent in March.

It further adds: "As you know, Professor Yunus' work, which has been inspirational to all of us, focuses on how social business can be a force for international progress resulting in zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. He is a leading example of how Bangladesh and Bangladeshis have contributed to global progress in recent decades. We sincerely wish that he be able to continue his path-breaking work free of persecution or harassment."

"We hope that you ensure the resolution of these legal issues in an expedient, impartial, and just manner while also ensuring a free, fair, and participatory national election in the coming months, and respect for all human rights. We will join with millions of concerned citizens around the world in closely tracking how these matters are resolved in the days ahead."

On September 9, 2021, Labour Inspector (general) SM Arifuzzaman of the Inspection for Factories and Establishments Department filed a labour law violation case against four people, including Prof Yunus, with the 3rd Labour Court of Dhaka.

According to case documents in the public domain, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) visited Grameen Telecom and uncovered various violations of the labour law.

They said 101 workers were supposed to be made permanent, but were not. Workers' and welfare funds were not constituted. Additionally, 5% of the dividends of Grameen Telecom was supposed to accrue to the workers, but that didn't happen, the case filed by the DIFE in September 2021 alleged.

Obama over the weekend also wrote to Yunus separately, as a sole signatory, expressing his hope that the 'Banker to the Poor' can continue to do his 'important work'.

Meanwhile, 34 eminent citizens of the country in a statement published on Sunday, called upon the government to stop all sorts of harassment against Dr Yunus.

The letter notes his lawyers' contention that the allegations brought in the case are civil in nature, yet the government has pursued a criminal case.

Prof Yunus is one of only seven people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Congressional Gold Medal, and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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