I have been punished for the crime that I didn’t commit: Dr Yunus

Nobel Laureate economist and Grameen Telecom chairman Dr Muhammad Yunus arrives in a court in Dhaka on 1 January 2024Dipu Malakar

Nobel Laureate economist and Grameen Telecom chairman Dr Muhammad Yunus on Monday said, “I was punished for the crime that I didn’t commit. This grief remains in my heart.”     

Dr Yunus told this to the journalists on Monday hours after the third labour court in Dhaka sentenced him to six months in prison and fined Tk 25,000 for labour law violation.

The court also granted bail to Dr Yunus, who was present on the dock, on condition of appealing against the verdict within a month.

After the court delivered the verdict, Dr Yunus’ counsel Abdullah Al Mamun termed the verdict unprecedented.

He told journalists that this verdict of the labour court is incomplete and Dr Yunus did not get justice from the court.

His client will appeal against this verdict to the top court within the stipulated time, Abdullah Al Mamun added.

Along with Dr Yunus, three others also faced the similar sentence. They are Grameen Telecom’s former managing director Md Ashraful Hasan, directors Nur Jahan Begum and Md Shahjahan.

The maximum punishment in this case is six-month imprisonment and a fine of Tk 25,000. Both was handed down to Dr Muhammad Yunus.

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Earlier, on 9 September in 2021, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) filed the case against Dr Yunus and the three others alleging that they violated the labour law. The court on 6 June last year framed charges against Yunus and three others in the case.

Yunus and others filed a petition with the Appellate Division seeking to scrap the trial proceeding in the case. The Appellate Division on 20 August in 2023 rejected the petition.

The labour court then started taking depositions of witnesses on 22 August. Four officials of DIFE gave depositions against Dr Yunus and others.

According to the case statement, recruitment of workers and employees were not made permanent at Grameen Telecom in accordance with the Labour Law, 2006 and the Labour Rules, 2015 after their apprenticeship ends. Workers and employees who are employed were not given annual leave with pay, leave encashment and cash against leave.

Workers Profit Participation Fund (WPPF) and Welfare Fund were not formed, as well as a 5 per cent of the organisation’s profit is not deposited to the fund formed in accordance with the Workers Welfare Foundation Act, the case statement added.

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Responding to the allegations, the four defendants including Dr Yunus told the court in a written statement on 9 November that officers and employees of Grameen Telecom are appointed on contract as per the organisation’s policy because the business of Grameen Telecom is operated on contract.

However, all officials and employees of Grameen Telecom enjoy provident fund, gratuity, earned leave and retirement leave like permanent employees. The allegation brought in this case regarding not making recruitment of employees permanent is a matter of administration and civil case.

Grameen Telecom is a non-profit organisation under section 28 of the Company Act, and its profit is not for distribution and it is used for social development, the written statement added.

Following the record of witness deposition and the closing of augments, Dhaka’s third labour court’s judge Begum Sheikh Merina Sultana on 24 December fixed 1 January as the date for the announcement of the verdict in this case.

Dr Yunus arrived in the court premises, which was set up temporarily in Paltan’s Bijoynagar area, at 1:40 pm and entered the courtroom at 1:45 pm.

Rights activist Irene Khan, photographer Shahidul Alam, Dhaka University law professor Asif Nazrul, and lawyer and rights activist Sara Hossain, among others, were present on the court premises.

Irene Khan told the journalists she was surprised over the verdict on the sentence to Dr Yunus and this sentence has been given to harass him.