Dhaka, Jan 1 (EFE).- A Bangladesh court sentenced Nobel Peace laureate Mohammad Yunus to jail for six months on Monday for violating labor laws in a case that his supporters say is politically motivated.
Judge Sheikh Merina Sultana of a labor tribunal delivered the verdict, with Yunus, the chairman of Grameen Telecom, present along with the other co-accused — the managing director of the company and two other directors.
“We are punished for the crime we did not commit,” Yunus told reporters about the verdict
However, the convicts are not required to go to jail immediately, as the court granted them bail for one month pending appeal to the higher court, according to state prosecutor Khursid Alam.
“We are satisfied with the verdict,” said Alam, who added that the court also fined Yunus and other convicts taka 30,000 ($272) each or another 25 days in jail in default.
Yunus’ lawyer, Abdullah Al Mamun, said they were “enraged” with the verdict and would appeal.
He criticized the court for conducting hearings sometimes as late as 8 pm, calling the verdict “unjust.” “We were deprived of justice.”
Mamun said the prosecution failed to prove anything as the defence presented 109 contradictions. “If there is one contradiction, even a murder accused gets released.”
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Irene Khan called the verdict a “travesty of justice” and criticized the weaponization of the labor tribunal against a Nobel Peace laureate.
“As a citizen of Bangladesh, on the first day of 2024, I am shocked and terrified to see what is happening to the rule of law in this country,” Khan told reporters.
“The labor tribunal has been weaponized against a Nobel Peace laureate,” she said. “They brought up a privileged case, weaponizing the system to punish Professor Yunus.”
On Sep. 9, 2021, a labor inspector filed the case against Yunus and others on charges of not setting up the Workers’ Contributory Fund and Welfare Fund, as well as for not depositing the 5 percent share of net profits to the concerned workers’ welfare funds since 2006.
Other charges include not making the jobs of workers permanent after the end of their probationary period and not giving workers a leave benefit.
The verdict against Yunus came seven days before Bangladesh’s general election on Jan. 7.
Yunus has been facing over 170 cases on allegations of corruption, money laundering, tax dodging, and labor law violations.
In an open letter on Aug.28 to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 176 global leaders, including ex-US President Barack Obama, ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and more than 100 Nobel laureates, expressed concern at “continuous judicial harassment” against Yunus.
Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, along with the Grameen Bank he founded in 1976.
Bangladesh authorities removed him as Grameen Bank managing director in 2011. Grameen Telecom and Grameen Bank are two separate organizations.
Yunus has had a strained relationship with Bangladeshi authorities since a documentary in 2010 alleged illegal fund transfers between the two entities in the Grameen Group.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina has criticized Yunus for allegedly influencing the World Bank to cancel funding for the construction of a mega bridge project, an allegation he denied. EFE