In an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, more than 241 global leaders including over 125 Nobel Laureates expressed their alarm over the “continuous judicial harassment and potential jailing” of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus. This is the third open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from global leaders over Muhammad Yunus.
“We agree with Irene Khan,” the letter continued, “the United Nations special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, who left the courtroom after the jail verdict was delivered and called it “a travesty of justice.”
On January 1, 2024, Professor Yunus and three Grameen Telecom colleagues were convicted of labour law violations, sentenced to six months in jail. They were given bail on Sunday while their appeals were considered.
In their letter, the leaders noted with concern: “….the rushed legal process, and lack of consistency with regard to how Bangladesh’s laws are applied. The criminal verdict included time in prison for four individuals including Professor Yunus…when it is clear that, at most, only a small civil fine against Grameen Telecom, a nonprofit organization, was warranted under the relevant laws.”
After the verdict, human rights organization Amnesty International condemned the conviction, stating: “Amnesty International believes that initiating criminal proceedings against Muhammad Yunus and his colleagues for issues that belong to the civil and administrative arena is a blatant abuse of labor laws and the justice system, and a form of political retaliation for his work and dissent.”
In their letter, the leaders, including Barack Obama, 44th President of the US, expressed concern “….that the recent election in Bangladesh held on January 7, 2024, was tarnished by the suppression and imprisonment of opposition leaders, the media, and independent voices, which have been extensively documented by many human rights and other pro-democracy groups in Bangladesh and abroad.”
"Bangladeshis deserve a government that honours and supports -- rather than persecutes -- its most esteemed citizens,” said former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the verdict.
“I call on the prime minister to stop this senseless campaign against Professor Muhammad Yunus now."
Looking for a resolution, the leaders accepted an invitation made by Sheikh Hasina, who told a news conference at the end of August 2023 that the “signers should send experts, including lawyers, to go through all the documents of Professor Yunus and his cases to see if there is any wrongdoing or wrongful prosecution.”
“We accept your invitation,” the leaders wrote.
“This examination should include not only the labour law case whose verdict was delivered on January 1, but also the investigation being conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission.”
Professor Yunus’ conviction is the culmination of years of persecution by the government. This is one of more than 150 cases that have been filed against him, in one of the most egregious examples of judicial harassment in the country’s history.
“A social activist and Nobel laureate,” Irene Khan warned, “who brought honour and pride to the country is being persecuted on frivolous grounds.”
“Muhammad Yunus’s case is emblematic of the beleaguered state of human rights in Bangladesh,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard in September 2023.
“The abuse of laws and misuse of the justice system to settle vendettas is inconsistent and incompatible with international human rights treaties.”
Callamard is a signatory to this latest letter. This letter follows ones sent in March and August 2023.
Sam Daley-Harris, founder of Civic Courage, urged concerned citizens to join this effort by responding to this call to action.