'Judicial harassment' is the term used in the letter from the global leaders and Dr Yunus's fellow Nobel laureates, while in some of the responses that we've seen on behalf of the government, we've seen them take the position that the signatories wouldn't have sent such a letter if they were more familiar with the details of the case. We've also seen an invitation for Dr Yunus's powerful friends to send their own legal experts to assess the facts and evidence presented in the case independently.
I am now convinced that this was a bluff, because actually once you learn the facts in the case filed with the labour court, it is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that this is indeed judicial harassment. The first and foremost red flag is that allegations that are inherently civil in nature have been filed as a criminal case. The key difference being that whereas a civil case could lead to the court awarding redress to the workers (that Grameen Telecom would have to pay), in a criminal case the court can send the alleged perpetrators, in this case Dr Yunus and three other trustees of GT, to jail.
So almost immediately you have to wonder, how did that happen? There is even a Supreme Court judgement from 2016, that Dr Yunus's lawyers have referred to in their submissions before the court, where it is stated that no criminal case should be filed directly under the Labour Act, without first seeking redress from a labour court. And surely you would think that the workers would prefer the financial reward in the form of compensation from GT, over seeing Dr Yunus being sent to jail. Whose interest is being served here?
Whose case is it anyway?
That is where you come to another key feature of the case: it wasn't filed by the workers. In recent weeks we have heard a false claim emanating from the highest levels of the government, and parroted by others, including quite stunningly the Supreme Court Bar Association, who you would expect to know better, that the case against Dr Yunus was filed by the workers, not the government.
The English translation of the relevant portion of the SCBA press release, from Dhaka Tribune: "The government filed no cases against him on labour issues; rather the cases were filed by the oppressed labourers for materialising their legal lawful and genuine claim and right."
We keep hearing this claim from the likes of Nayeemul Islam Khan, for example on Khaled Mohiuddin's show last week he said it multiple times, going unchallenged throughout. We're going to look at what the High Court judgement of August 8, that was later upheld in the Supreme Court (both going against Dr Yunus), says. It is available on the Supreme Court website. Copy/pasting the relevant section verbatim:
Facts in short are that Mr. S.M. Arifuz Zaman, Labour Inspector (General) Department of Inspection, Factories and Establishment, Dhaka lodged a complaint on 20.08.2021 with the 3rd Labour Court, Dhaka alleging that in course of inspection of Grameen Telecom Company (hereinafter referred to as GTC) he detected the infringements of the following provisions of Bangladesh Labour Ain, 2006 and Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015.
(1) On completion of probationary period jobs of the labourers and employees are not made permanent in violation of section 4(7)(8 ) of the Bangladesh Labour Ain, 2006 (herein after referred to Act No.42 of 2006)
(2) Labourers and Employees are not granted annual leave with pay or money against earned leave in violation of section 117 of Act No.42 of 2006, and,
(3) Labourers Participatory Fund and Labour Welfare Fund were not constituted and 5% of the net profit of the GTC was not deposited in above funds under the Labour Welfare Foundation Law, 2006.
Later, Justice S M Kuddus Zaman, who authored the verdict on behalf of himself and Justice Shahed Nuruddin, writes about a reference to case law made by Dr Yunus's lawyer:
"In the case of S.M. Jahidul Islam and others Vs. Syed Ahmed Chowdhury reported in 4 CLR (AD) 2016 the Appellate Division has opined that no complaint under above Ain should be made directly under section 307 without seeking redress to the Labour Court for nonpayment of service benefits."
Section 307 of the Labour Act is where it says "Whoever contravenes, or fails to comply with, any of the provisions of this act or the rules, regulations or schemes" shall be punishable with fine or imprisonment i.e. it brings punishment in the form of a prison sentence into the picture for violations of the Act.
Towards the end, while dealing with the case law reference, Justice S M Kuddus Zaman writes:
"We have carefully gone through the judgement of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh reported in 4 CLR (AD) (2016) and found that above case was filed by an individual labourer for realization of his service benefits. On the other hand this case was filed by an authorized Inspector of the Government..."
So the judge has even differentiated between the two cases on the basis that one was filed by a labourer, and one by a government officer. If that's not the government, I don't know what is.
Elsewhere, while describing the DIFE inspector's activities, Justice Kuddus Zaman writes how the visit that led to him filing the case on 20.08.21 was made "on the direction" of a higher authority: "On the direction of the higher authority he again inspected GTC on 06.08.2021 and finding repetition of above violations...."
Did DIFE tamper with evidence?
Several heated arguments between the opposing lawyers marred witness testimony in the trial of Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus and three of his fellow trustees at Grameen Telecom, for violations of the country's labour law on Tuesday (Sep. 5).
The dispute arose from a mismatch in the signatures of the officials of the Department of Inspection Factories and Establishments, or DIFE, in the checklist following their inspection visit of Grameen Telecom in August 2021.
After the court's attention was drawn to this by Dr Yunus's lawyer Barrister Abdullah Al Mamun, the court asked him to file a written application in this regard, for which the counsel sought time.
This was granted, before Judge Sheikh Marina Sultana of Dhaka Labour Court-3 fixed September 13 as the next date of cross-examination in the case.
Earlier, Inspector Tariqul Islam of the DIFE, the first witness in the trial, took the stand at 12:26 pm on Tuesday. The stage was almost immediately set for the drama that lay ahead, as reporters were asked to leave the court-room just as Barrister Mamun was about to start his cross-examination of the witness.
Visibly taken aback, Yunus's lawyer questioned, "Is it a camera trial that journalists were kicked out?"
He also said that even the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court allows journalists to be present and report on court proceedings.
In reply, the judge said: "We cannot complete the trial in the case keeping everyone in the courtroom."
The judge later allowed reporters to be present, but standing at the back of the courtroom. Advocate Khurshid Alam Khan and Chief Prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal Syed Haider Ali, newly deputised to the case, were present on behalf of DIFE.
At one point of the hearing, Barrister Mamun asked the plaintiff, "When you go to visit somewhere, do you give the owner a seizure list or checklist?"
The inspector replied, "If they want, we give a copy."
At that time, the advocate asked Tariqul whether they had given any seizure list or checklist to the owners of Grameen Telecom. The inspector said yes, they did.
That is the point at which Barrister Mamun drew the court's attention and said the checklist given to Grameen Telecom and the checklist submitted in court did not match. He immediately urged the court to issue arrest warrants against those involved, including the plaintiff on the witness stand. In response, the court asked to apply in writing.
Syed Haider Ali rose to say a suo motu (on the court's own accord) order cannot be given. Barrister Mamun then again said, "We will apply."
Khurshid Alam Khan meanwhile asked Barrister Mamun to finish the cross-examination of the witness.
In response, Barrister Mamun said, "It will take three more days. Everything is getting caught, and the entire world is finding out."
Lawyers then engaged in a rowdy exchange, speaking over each other as the court descended into chaos. The judge tried to impose order, but to no avail. At one point, Haider Ali said after the verdict, he would apply to take action 'against the fraud', though it was not clear what he was referring to.
The judge left the courtroom around 2:30 pm as the screaming match continued. The court then sat again at 3:30 pm. At that time, the court accepted the time request on behalf of Dr Yunus and said that the order will be passed later.
The court then fixed September 13 as the next date for cross-examination of the witness.
Outside the courtroom, Abdullah Al Mamun explained his contention to reporters, that concerned a visit on August 16, 2021 by officials of DIFE to Grameen Telecom.
"They presented an inspection list at the end of the visit. On behalf of Grameen Telecom, it was signed by our managing director and two others, and by late Inspector Arifuzzaman, the original plaintiff, on behalf of DIFE. A photocopy of that list was given to us. There was only one signature on behalf of DIFE there, Arifuzzaman's, and it was without seal. But the copy of the inspection list filed with the court, plaintiff's Exhibit IV, has been tampered with. In addition to late Arifuzzaman's signature, four new signatures appear in this tampered inspection list, along with their seals. Arifuzzaman's seal also appears, although it was not there in the copy given to us. Using this list, Dr Yunus has been charged," the lawyer explained.
"The fact that a government department can engage in this kind of activity against a citizen is harrowing. I have asked that arrest warrants be issued against all the inspectors, including the Chief Inspector, who are involved in this tampering or forgery under Section 195 1 (d) of the CrPC," said Abdullah Al Mamun.
Additional reporting by UNB
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