Forty global leaders including former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton have expressed “deep concerns for…[the] well-being” of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus in an open letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The letter appeared as a full-page ad in the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 but was not considered worth a news item by the Post.
Topping the list of signatories was Hilary Clinton, a well-known friend of Muhammed Yunus. The letter comes at a time the US is putting huge pressure on Bangladesh to play ball on strategic issues (like support for a no-fly zone over Myanmar) and has weaponized the human rights issue by issuing sanctions against seven top officials of Rapid Action Battalion including Banazir Ahmed who later became Bangladesh police chief.
This is a move calculated to demoralize the Bangladesh security apparatus which has fought the jihadi menace successfully so far, an effort that even earned praise from a former FBI counter-terrorism chief.
The timing of this “open letter” seems to anticipate some strong penal action against the Nobel Laureate as the inquiry started by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) against the board of directors of Grameen Telecom, including its former Chairman Dr Muhammad Yunus over embezzlement of the welfare funds of the employees and laundering of Tk 3,000 crore, is reportedly nearing its end.
The anti-graft body initiated the inquiry following a report submitted by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments of the Ministry of Labour and Employment against the board of directors of the telecom company. The company’s board of directors allegedly embezzled Tk 2,977 crore by transferring it to other affiliated companies of Grameen Telecom, ACC officials have said.
It is an open secret that Yunus tried to float a political party with US backing during the military-backed caretaker regime (2006-2008).
Muhammad Yunus, appeared to have been aware of the risks involved in entering Bangladesh politics when he told Henry Jardine, the US Consul General in Kolkata at that time, that he was aware of the “potentially bruising response” it would provoke.
A cable (>96421: unclassified) sent on February 13, 2007 from the U.S. Consulate details the conversation between Mr. Jardine and Mr. Yunus.
Now as a lawyer of some consequence, let me pose four questions for these ‘bleeding heart’ westerners who are so worried about Yunus.
* Is Yunus above the law just because he won the Nobel Prize and received other awards? The open letter highlights Muhammad Yunus as one of seven people in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Now my question is why is the USA’s present government trying to bring to justice Donald Trump for allegedly making away with state secrets? Perhaps because the US Constitution talks of equality before law and equal treatment of all citizens. Not even past presidents can get away if they have violated the law of the land. So, if Yunus is found conclusively guilty of the charges levelled against him, he will be punished under provisions of the Bangladesh Constitution.
* The US makes much of its commitment to fight against terror (Islamist terror, isn’t it) but its actions in Bangladesh are weakening the party and the government that has fought Islamist terror since it came to power in Dec 2008. Does Mr Biden believe someone like Yunus, who is trying to sneak into the helm with US backing, will be able to hold fort against the fundamentalist forces who are active as never before? He seems to be another Ashraf Ghani in the making. Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated single-minded toughness in fighting terror and put down these elements even after the Holey Artisan Bakery terror strike.
* If Yunus is the all-popular messiah of the poor as he is made out to be and if, as he once threatened, Grameen Bank beneficiaries account for one-fourth of the country’s population, why did he want to enter politics through the backdoor with support of a military junta which was backing a caretaker that had clearly exceeded its constitutional brief of holding elections within the specified constitutional time frame.
* In West Bengal, Nobel Laureate and celebrated economist Amartya Sen had to defend his case with documents and legal advice when the Vishwa Bharati University alleged he had illegally encroached on some of the university lands. He did not enjoy any special favours – so the same be the case with Dr. Yunus. He can’t get away just because he is a Nobel laureate and has donated a lot of funds to the Clinton foundation.
I pitch for Dr Yunus’ democratic right to form a political party and fight elections – we would love to take him on. But my only request to Dr Yunus is face the people and prove yourself.
Politicians parachuted by the US have not been able to stay in power despite US military backing – Ashraf Ghani, former Afghan president, is a classic example.
Indian president Pranab Mukherjee once told Hilary Clinton that the battle against Islamist terror in Bangladesh has to be fought by “home-grown secular forces” and not by “Us Marines with bulging biceps”. So, my request to Mr Biden and Ms Clinton – please let us fight our battles and if Yunus is worth his salt, please advise him as leaders of a democratic country to contest elections and win them if possible.
(Tarana Halim is an actress-playwright, lawyer and former minister who is now a Central Executive Committee Member of Awami League)
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