Ex-US President Barack Obama has written a letter of support for Dr Muhammad Yunus, expressing his hope that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist can continue to do his 'important work'.
Dr Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, shared an image of the letter signed by Obama on his verified Facebook page on Sunday (Aug. 27).
"I have long been inspired by your efforts to empower people through offering them the means to lift their families and communities out of poverty. As I said when having the opportunity to meet you in the White House in 2009, your work has inspired millions to imagine their own potential," said the letter from the 44th president of the United States.
"During this period, I hope it gives you strength to know that many whose potential you invested in, and those of us who care about a more equitable economic future for all, are thinking of you, and I hope that you continue to have the freedom to do your important work," it reads.
The current US president, Joe Biden, served eight years over two terms as vice president to Obama, who is still thought to wield tremendous influence within the ranks of the Democrat party in particular, and US politics in general.
Also on Sunday, 34 eminent citizens of the country expressed 'deep concern' over the government's motives through a series of recent developments that have gone against Bangladesh's first and till now only Nobel laureate, in a case filed with Dhaka's No.3 Labour Court.
On August 20, a full bench of the Appellate Division cleared the way for the criminal case to continue against Dr Yunus and his co-defendants, by rejecting a petition to prevent the case from proceeding. The trial commenced two days later.
In a statement circulated to news outlets, the group of concerned citizens called upon the government to stop all sorts of harassment against Dr Yunus. It notes his lawyers' contention that the allegations brought in the case are civil in nature, yet the government has pursued a criminal case.
"The government's role in disposing of the case with abnormal haste has become evident recently," the statement said. It also alleges that Dr Yunus has already been subjected to harassment in the case.
Harassing him in the garb of legal and administrative measures is hampering his work and sending a negative message to the world, the statement adds.
Later in the week, more than 160 global leaders, including over 100 Nobel Laureates, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing their deep concern about the safety and well-being of Prof. Yunus.
Addressed directly to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the letter is signed by Nobel 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 labour law cases against him will result in his acquittal."
This latest letter was a follow up to an earlier letter sent in March.
The new letter further added: "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."
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.
Dr Yunus chaired the Board of Trustees of Grameen Telecom, which is registered as a trust. The others accused in the case are his fellow trustees Ashraful Hasan, Md Shahjahan and Noor Jahan Begum.
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