Dr Muhammad Yunus
File photo

Amnesty International on Monday said Bangladesh government is weaponizing labour laws against Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus and urged the authorities to immediately end the harassment he faces.

“Muhammad Yunus, who is also the chairman of the board at Grameen Telecom, is accused of employment-related violations and faces a criminal case in Bangladesh under the Labour Act 2006. Three other board members, Ashraful Hasan, Nur Jahan Begum and Mohammad Shahjahan, face the same charges,” said a news published on Amnesty International website yesterday.

“The ongoing trial is just one of more than 150 cases filed against Muhammad Yunus after the ruling Awami League party came to power in 2008. Amnesty International believes that initiating criminal proceedings against Mohammad Yunus and his colleagues for issues that belong to the civil and administrative arena is a blatant abuse of labour laws and the justice system and a form of political retaliation for his work and dissent.”

The news quoted Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, as saying, “Muhammad Yunus’ case is emblematic of the beleaguered state of human rights in Bangladesh, where the authorities have eroded freedoms and bulldozed critics into submission."

The abuse of laws and misuse of the justice system to settle vendettas is inconsistent and incompatible with international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party.

"It is time for the government to put an end to this travesty of justice,” he said.

The Amnesty International said the unusual speed in which the trial against Muhammad Yunus is proceeding stands in stark contrast with other labour rights-related court cases in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh government’s relentless smear campaign against Mohammad Yunus shows the desperate lengths the current regime is willing to go to set an example through the hounding of an 83-year-old Nobel laureate
Agnès Callamard, secretary general, Amnesty International

“This includes the fires at the BM Container Depot in 2022 and the Hashem Foods Factory in 2021 where almost 100 factory workers were killed due to the employer’s alleged negligence and non-compliance with safety standards. In both cases, the company owners faced no known criminal liability and evaded accountability by paying paltry compensations. Occupational safety of workers remains a distant prospect with conservative estimates from the Safety and Rights Society, an NGO working to improve working conditions in Bangladesh, recording more than 4,700 worker deaths between 2013 and 2022,” the report added.

“The Bangladesh government’s relentless smear campaign against Muhammad Yunus shows the desperate lengths the current regime is willing to go to set an example through the hounding of an 83-year-old Nobel laureate,” said Agnès Callamard.

“Those violating labour rights must undoubtedly be held accountable. However, rather than misusing labour laws and criminal justice to harass Muhammad Yunus, the authorities should focus on combatting extensive threats to labour rights such as unsafe factories which continue to claim the lives of thousands of workers in Bangladesh,” he added.

Earlier on 5 September, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said human rights advocates and civil society leaders, including Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, are being intimidated and harassed through legal proceedings in Bangladesh.

On 28 August, over 150 Nobel laureates and world leaders in different sectors issued an open letter to prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressing concern over the case against Muhammad Yunus on allegations of breaching the labour law and corruption. Of them, more than 100 were Nobel laureates.