Dhaka, Sep 1 (EFE).- Opinions have become divided after 176 global leaders appealed to the Bangladesh authorities to halt an alleged campaign of judicial harassment against Nobel Laureate and microcredit pioneer Mohammad Yunus.
In an open letter on Aug.28 to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the leaders, including ex-US President Barack Obama, ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and more than 100 Nobel laureates, expressed concern about threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.
“One of the threats to human rights that concerns us in the present context is the case of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yunus,” said the letter.
“We are alarmed that he has been targeted by what we believe to be continuous judicial harassment,” the letter said.
The signatories of the letter asked the Bangladesh prime minister to “immediately suspend the current judicial proceedings against Yunus, followed by a review of the charges by a panel of impartial judges.
Hasina expressed surprise, emphasizing that if Yunus was confident of his innocence, he would not have sought international statements.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Hasina said Bangladesh’s judiciary was “independent,” and invited the signatories of the letter to send experts and lawyers instead of issuing statements.
Some government supporters criticized the global leaders for issuing a statement on his behalf.
An association of Dhaka University teachers said the global leaders had interfered in the judicial system of Bangladesh in an “unethical, illegal, and unconstitutional” manner by issuing such a letter.
Yunus’ lawyers said the global leaders were ready to send observers, as desired by the prime minister.
“They are in regular touch with Yunus. They can always send observers, but it seems we are running out of time,” defense lawyer Abdullah Al Mamun told EFE.
The Bangladesh foreign ministry criticized the letter, ” marked by an obvious gap of information and amounts to an affront to Bangladesh’s independent judicial system.”
“It comes as a surprise to the government that the signatories to the letter already reached their own conclusion about the merit of the sub-judice cases as well as the outcome of the judicial proceedings,” a press statement from the ministry said.
The ministry said it was “unacceptable for a citizen of a sovereign country” to seek external interventions based on his perception of being above the law of the land.
“The allegations of ‘persecution or harassment’ seem to follow a pattern that stems from a victim mentality using human rights and democracy as an expedient cover.”
The trial of one of the numerous cases filed against Yunus is at the final stage and may conclude on Sep.5.
A government official filed the case with Dhaka’s labour court in 2021 against Yunus and three others for not confirming the jobs of some 100 workers of Grameen Telecom, the company that he heads.
This week, the labour court summoned Yunus to appear before it on Oct.16 in connection with 18 cases filed against him by former employees of the company, demanding a share of its profit.
Dhaka University teacher Asif Nazrul said these were signs of judicial harassment.
“The kind of vitriol spread against Yunus from the highest level of government…appears nothing but persecution in the name of trial,” Nazrul told EFE.