Nobel peace laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus on Monday stressed that he has been punished for a crime he didn’t commit.
“I have been punished for a crime that I haven’t committed,” Yunus told reporters after he was convicted in a case over violation of labor law. “If you want to call it justice, you can.”
Earlier this afternoon, a Dhaka court sentenced Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus and three top officials of Grameen Telecom to six months’ jail, with fine of Tk 25000 each, in a case over violation of labor law.
The others accused in the case are: Ashraful Hasan, CEO of Grameen Telecom Trust; trustee Nurjahan Begum; and managing director M Shahjahan.
They were accused of not making 101 workers and employees of Grameen Telecom permanent, not encashing public leave, and not depositing certain dividends to the Workers Welfare Foundation.
In the 84-page verdict, the judge said the charges of violating labor laws were proved against them.
Rejecting the verdict, Yunus’s lawyer Abdullah-Al-Mamun told reporters that they would appeal against the judgment.
“We did not get justice and will file an appeal petition with the High Court,” said Barrister Mamun.
However, Professor Yunus and three others accused in the case will not have to go to jail for the time being as the court granted one-month bail to them on the condition of appeal.
After the verdict, Yunus was taken out of the court amid tight police security.
In an immediate reaction, Yunus said, “Many of my friends have come to hear the verdict today, whom I have not met for a long time. It was a pleasure to see them today. ”
“Everyone was waiting for the verdict. We were punished for the crime we didn’t commit. I got hurt on a happy day,” said Yunus.
Many prominent citizens were present in the court to hear the verdict including human rights activist and United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, Irene Khan, BLAST Executive Director Barrister Sara Hossain, prominent photojournalist Shahidul Alam and Dhaka University Professor Asif Nazrul.
Irene Khan told reporters that she was shocked by the verdict and further called it “a travesty of justice.”
“On the first day of 2024, I am shocked and I am terrified to see what is happening to the rule of law in this country where a labour tribunal has been weaponised against a nobel peace laureate while labour laws are broken and violated in the most severe ways everyday in Bangladesh and the government does nothing. A social activist and Nobel laureate who brought honour and pride to the country is being persecuted on frivolous grounds. For me that is a travesty of justice,” said the human rights activist.
Dhaka 3rd Labor Court Judge Sheikh Merina Sultana started reading the verdict after 2:00 pm on Monday.
“Dr Yunus is not being tried today as a Nobel Laureate. Here he is being judged as the chairman of Grameen Telecom,” said the judge.
While the verdict was being read out, Yunus’ lawyer Barrister Mamun told the judge several times that their contentions were not included in the verdict.
“This raises questions about the impartiality of the court,” he told the court.
In the verdict, the judge said, “The defence lawyer has said that there are other directors in the case who have not been accused. They also said that only the close ones of Dr. Yunus have been accused in the case, which is not true. It has appeared to the court that the labor law has been violated.”
According to the case, during an inspection visit to Grameen Telecom, inspectors of the department found that 101 workers and staff members who were supposed to be permanent were not made so.
No participation fund and welfare fund was formed for them and five percent of the company’s profit was not provided to the workers following the labour law.