Global Figures Call for an End to Persecution of Muhammad Yunus

In a powerful open letter, more than 170 global figures have appealed to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, to halt the ongoing “persecution” of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus. The renowned economist and founder of Grameen Bank has been faced with numerous lawsuits, with additional cases being filed against him in recent weeks. The signatories of the letter, which include prominent personalities such as Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson, and Bono, argue that these legal actions undermine democratic principles and urge for them to be ceased.

Muhammad Yunus is globally recognized for his groundbreaking work in microfinance, where he pioneered the concept of providing small, long-term loans to empower impoverished individuals to establish their own small businesses. This concept, implemented through Grameen Bank, has achieved remarkable success worldwide. It earned Yunus and the bank the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, further amplifying their influence and impact.

However, within Bangladesh, Yunus faces a markedly different perception from the country’s leadership. Prime Minister Hasina has consistently portrayed Yunus as a “bloodsucker” of the poor and accused Grameen Bank of charging exorbitant interest rates. Her government has intensified its attacks on Yunus since coming to power in 2009, and the recent lawsuits and allegations continue this trend.

The ongoing cases against Yunus have strong political undertones. It is believed that his previous attempt to establish a political party in 2007, potentially with the backing of the military-backed caretaker government, incensed Prime Minister Hasina. Despite ultimately abandoning the plan, Yunus’ involvement in politics left a lasting impact on the dynamics between him and the government. His decision not to pursue a political career has not appeased Hasina’s administration, which persistently targets and attempts to discredit him.

These developments assume additional significance as Bangladesh approaches its next general election, scheduled in four months. Calls for ensuring free and fair polls have been growing, accentuating the need for an impartial and inclusive political landscape. The lawsuits and harassment faced by Yunus raise concerns about the government’s commitment to democratic principles and the maintenance of a level playing field.

Critics argue that the cases filed against Yunus lack substance and are influenced by the government’s animosity towards him. His lawyer contends that they are baseless and politically motivated. Furthermore, political scientists and experts highlight that the sustained attacks on Yunus reflect a broader pattern of intolerance towards dissenting voices and a disregard for democratic values within the ruling administration.

In recent years, Bangladesh has witnessed a surge in reports of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and the unjust detention of journalists and activists critical of the government. The detainment of cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore for satirical cartoons and the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in custody exemplify the growing suppression of freedom of expression and the erosion of civil liberties.

The international community, through this open letter and the support shown to Yunus, is advocating for justice, fairness, and the protection of democratic principles in Bangladesh. By urging Prime Minister Hasina to cease the persecution of Yunus, these global figures aim to shed light on the plight of the Nobel laureate and the potential consequences of unchecked political vendettas.

Ultimately, the outcome of Yunus’ legal battles will not only impact his personal standing but also serve as a litmus test for the democratic health and institutional integrity of Bangladesh. The eyes of the world are now focused on the nation’s leadership, waiting to see whether they will uphold the values of democracy and safeguard the rights of individuals like Muhammad Yunus.