Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus found guilty in Bangladesh labour law case

The verdict represents a notable milestone in the ongoing political strife between Muhammad Yunus and the government of Bangladesh.

Renowned Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus, celebrated for his groundbreaking efforts in poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment through microfinance, has been found guilty of violating Bangladesh’s labour laws. Yunus, along with three colleagues from Grameen Telecom, has been sentenced to six months in simple imprisonment. However, they have been granted bail pending appeals.

The Dhaka labour court convicted Yunus and his colleagues for their failure to establish a workers’ welfare fund at Grameen Telecom, one of the numerous companies founded by Yunus to address poverty and development challenges in Bangladesh. The prosecutor, Khurshid Alam Khan, confirmed the conviction and sentence, highlighting that bail was immediately granted to all four individuals pending appeals.

The conviction has sparked a small demonstration in support of Yunus outside the court. In August, a collective letter was released, signed by 160 prominent individuals worldwide, which included former US president Barack Obama and former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. The letter strongly condemned the persistent legal persecution experienced by Yunus. More than 100 fellow Nobel laureates joined the signatories, expressing concerns for Yunus’ safety and freedom.

Critics have accused the Bangladeshi courts of delivering verdicts influenced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. Under her administration, there has been an increasing crackdown on political dissent. Despite being highly respected worldwide, Yunus has earned the enmity of Hasina and is considered her primary rival due to his popularity among the Bangladeshi public.

Muhammad Yunus, an 83-year-old Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist, and civil society leader, has made significant contributions to poverty alleviation. In 2006, he was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work in establishing the Grameen Bank and introducing the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. Through these innovative initiatives, millions of individuals have been lifted out of poverty.

The Grameen Bank, in particular, has provided collateral-free loans to an impressive 7.5 million clients residing in over 82,072 villages in Bangladesh, with an astounding 97% of these clients being women. Despite his international recognition, Yunus has faced criticism within his own country. Prime Minister Hasina has launched a series of scathing verbal attacks against him, accusing him of exploiting the poor.