A total of 40 global leaders, including former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, have expressed concern over the harassment of Nobel laureate Dr Mohammad Yunus by the government here.
“It is painful to see Professor Yunus, a man of impeccable integrity, and his life’s work unfairly attacked and repeatedly harassed and investigated by your government" they said in an open letter to prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday.
They took a chance to give a gentle reminder that one of the most important roles of government is to create an environment where traditional and social entrepreneurs can flourish.
Hence, they urged the government to take positive steps to support and recognise the great contributions of Dr Yunus, saying “We have deep concerns for Professor Yunus’ well-being and his ability to contribute to humanitarian advancement in Bangladesh and around the world.”
The global figures hoped that Bangladesh would return to its role as a model for other developing nations of how a vibrant civil society can be nurtured to ensure sustainable progress.
“A good first step would be to recognise Professor Yunus’ achievements and allow him to focus his energy on doing more good for your country and for the world, rather than on defending himself. We, and tens of millions of people around the world, hope that you will embrace this vision,” they told Sheikh Hasina.
The letter also noted Dr Yunus’ contributions to Bangladesh, especially to the very poor and the most vulnerable, as well as to the world.
Referring to the involvement in the entities he had established, the global leaders said Dr Yunus has not benefited financially from his involvement in Grameen Telecom or GrameenPhone. Rather, he has devoted himself to the poverty-fighting missions of the many organisations he has established and lives modestly in Dhaka.
News agency AFP reported that Dr Yunus has fallen out with prime minister Sheikh Hasina who has said he is "sucking blood" from the poor. Also, the anti-graft watchdog last year ordered a wide-ranging probe into firms Dr Yunus chairs.
Besides, the premier has attacked him personally, blaming him for the World Bank pulling out from a bridge project that was mired in corruption allegations.
There was no immediate comment from the government regarding the statement, according to the AFP report.
Yunus, 82, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, has seen his reputation at home tarnished by a labour dispute with Hasina, who critics accuse of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
He was forced from his position as Grameen Bank's managing director in 2011 in a move his supporters blamed on the conflict. His interests include a multi-billion dollar stake in the country's largest mobile phone operator.
The Padma Bridge was finally opened in June after years of construction delays, and Hasina took the occasion to say Yunus should be "dipped in a river" for jeopardising its completion.
Against such a backdrop, the global leaders reminded that Dr Yunus is one of seven people in history to have received the Nobel peace prize, the US presidential medal of freedom, and the US congressional gold medal, a group that includes Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, and Elie Wiesel.
He founded Grameen Bank in 1976 and grew it to a world-renowned poverty-fighting institution of 9 million borrowers, 97 per cent of them women, that has lifted millions out of poverty and been a model for other microcredit programs around the world.
Grameen Shakti, which Dr Yunus founded and chairs, has installed more than 1.8 million solar home systems and trained thousands of rural women to install and repair these systems.
The farsighted investment of Grameen Telecom, a nonprofit organisation that he founded, in GrameenPhone, has allowed for the proliferation of social innovation throughout Bangladesh.
Among the signatories are Bono, musician and activist; Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group; Lord Mark Malloch Brown, President of Open Society Foundations; Sam Daley-Harris, founder of RESULTS and Civic Courage; Lt Gen (Rtd) Romeo Dallaire, founder of Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of Children’s Defense Fund; Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico; Peter Gabriel, musician; Ron Garan, former NASA astronaut; Kul Gautam, former deputy executive director of UNICEF and assistant secretary general of the UN; Pamela Gillies, former vice chancellor and professor emerita of Glasgow Caledonian University; Peter C Goldmark Jr, former CEO of Rockefeller Foundation and International Herald Tribune; and others.