Human Lives Human Rights: In a concerning turn of events, authorities in Bangladesh are facing international criticism for the alleged weaponization of labor laws and the ongoing harassment and intimidation of Nobel Peace Laureate Mohammad Yunus.
Yunus, who also serves as the chairman of the board at Grameen Telecom, finds himself entangled in employment-related violations and a criminal case under the Labour Act 2006, along with three other board members – Ashraful Hasan, Nur Jahan Begum, and Mohammad Shahjahan – who face similar charges.
This legal battle is just one of over 150 cases that have been filed against Mohammad Yunus since the Awami League party assumed power in 2008. Many view these criminal proceedings as an abuse of labor laws and a misuse of the justice system, driven by political retaliation against Yunus due to his work and dissent.
The situation has raised concerns about the state of human rights in Bangladesh, with critics pointing out that such actions are inconsistent with international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party. Calls are growing for the government to put an end to what is being seen as a travesty of justice.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s public criticisms of Mohammad Yunus, including accusations of “sucking blood from the poor” and suggestions that he should be dropped in the river Padma, have only added fuel to the fire. Most recently, she implied that Yunus could face imprisonment, echoing concerns about the government’s intentions.
What has raised further eyebrows is the rapid pace at which Yunus’s trial is proceeding, especially when compared to other labor rights-related court cases in Bangladesh. Tragic incidents like the fires at the BM Container Depot in 2022 and the Hashem Foods Factory in 2021, where nearly 100 factory workers lost their lives due to alleged employer negligence and non-compliance with safety standards, saw no known criminal liability for the company owners, who managed to avoid accountability by offering minimal compensations. Worker safety remains a distant prospect, with estimates indicating over 4,700 worker deaths between 2013 and 2022, as reported by the Safety and Rights Society, an NGO dedicated to improving working conditions in Bangladesh.
In summary, the persistent smear campaign against Mohammad Yunus by the Bangladesh government has drawn international attention, illustrating the lengths the current regime is willing to go to target an 83-year-old Nobel laureate. While those who violate labor rights should be held accountable, critics argue that misusing labor laws and the criminal justice system to harass Yunus distracts from more pressing issues, such as the dire state of worker safety in the country.
In 2006, Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize for their groundbreaking work in creating economic and social development from the grassroots level. Yunus later established Grameen Telecom (GTC) in 1994 to bring information technology to rural populations in Bangladesh.
The ongoing trial against Mohammad Yunus and his colleagues revolves around a case filed by a Labor inspector, primarily alleging violations of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (BLA) by Grameen Telecom. These allegations pertain to employee classification, leaves, and profit-sharing schemes. Notably, the case does not name Grameen Telecom as a party, instead focusing solely on the three directors most closely associated with Yunus. This has led to suspicions of political motivation and a concerted effort to harass and intimidate Yunus. None of the accused directors were actively involved in controlling the daily operations of the company.
On September 5, 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern over the harassment and intimidation of Mohammad Yunus and other dissenting voices in Bangladesh.