As Bangladesh is approaching the next national elections in early next year, where the ruling Awami League (AL) party will seek the mandate from 170 million people (including voters) for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Waged’s fourth consecutive term in office, one may witness more attacks on Professor Muhammad Yunus, the South Asian nation’s lone Nobel laureate, by the AL government in Dhaka and incumbent PM Hasina herself.

The poverty-stricken country’s main opposition political entity, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), remains in a fragile position as its uncontested leader Begum Khaleda Zia continues to be unhealthy and
its acting chairperson Tarque Rahman has been exiled in London since 2008.

Moreover, the BNP has yet to declare its participation in the national polls, as it leads an opposition alliance for a caretaker administration in Dhaka to conduct the elections. Otherwise, they decided to boycott the electoral exercise, but PM Hasina had refused to step down for a neutral caretaker government prior to the elections.

There are wild speculations that the combined opposition parties may project Prof.Yunus as their leader in the January 2024 general elections. The man who pioneered the microcredit movement and formed
the extraordinary institution Grameen Bank of Bangladesh (which shared the 2006 Nobel prize with him) already stated that he would not join in active politics. But the world’s longest-serving female government head apprehends that Prof. Yunus may influence the voters against her party candidates in the forthcoming polls. The ground reports reveal that the incumbent Hasina government may lose the elections if it is conducted in a free and fair manner.

In fact, soon after coming to power once again in 2008, PM Hasina started a series of probes against Prof. Yunus. First, he was accused of receiving money from foreign organizations (including royalties from his books) without informing the government. Later he faced charges under the company rule violation in Grameen Telecom. A group of workers complained that Prof. Yunus as its chairman deprived them of various due job benefits. With more to add, Prof. Yunus along with a few others were accused of misusing funds of the telecom company. Now the Supreme Court has directed Prof. Yunus to pay a tax of Taka 12 crore to the government as he donated money to three of his own trusts.

Recently, 177 global leaders including Nobel laureates, elected officials, business and civil society leaders, etc. urged the Sheikh Hasina-led government to stop harassing the octogenarian economist turned revolutionary banker to an acclaimed social thinker. Pointing out a current judicial proceeding against Prof. Yunus, they termed it as a broader assault on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Bangladesh. Commending the laudable progress made by Bangladesh since its independence in 1971, they however expressed deep concern over the threats to democracy and human rights in the country.

“We respectfully ask that you (Prime Minister Hasina) immediately suspend the current judicial proceedings against Prof. Yunus, followed by a review of the charges by a panel of impartial judges drawn from within your nation with some role for internationally recognized legal experts. We are confident that any thorough review of the anti-corruption and labor law cases against him will result in his acquittal,” said the open letter, issued on 28 August.

Appreciating Prof, Yunus’ work as inspirational to all of them which focuses on how social business can be a force for international progress resulting in zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions, the letter added that Prof. Yunus is a leading example of how Bangladesh and Bangladeshi nationals have contributed to global progress in recent decades.

“We sincerely wish that he (Prof. Yunus) be able to continue his path-breaking work free of persecution or harassment,” stated the letter adding that they expect PM Hasina to ensure the resolution of these legal issues in an expedient, impartial, and just manner. The influential global citizens asserted that they would join with millions of concerned citizens around the world in closely tracking how these matters are resolved in the coming days.

The signatories include Nobel laureates namely Barack H. Obama, José Ramos-Horta, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Albert Arnold Gore Jr., Tawakkol Karman, Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad, Maria Ressa, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Juan Manuel Santos, Rigoberta
Menchu Tum, Jody Williams, Peter Agre, Thomas R. Cech, Martin Chalfie, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, Walter Gilbert, Alan Heeger, Richard Henderson, Edmund Phelps, Vernon L. Smith, Joseph E. Stiglitz, J. M. Coetzee, Herta Muller, Orhan Pamuk, etc.

They did not forget to ask Hasina to ensure a free, fair, and participatory national election in the coming months. Stating that the previous two national elections in Bangladesh lacked legitimacy, the acclaimed citizens expressed hope that the administration of the election (for its 350-member Jatiya Sansad) be acceptable to all major parties in Bangladesh. The ruling AL won over 250 Parliamentarians in the December 2018 elections and the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman arguably enjoys an electoral advantage over the opposition parties.

The letter was also signed by Ban Ki-moon (former UN Secretary-General), Hillary Rodham Clinton (former U.S. Secretary of State), Narayana Murthy (Founder, Infosys), Ron Garan (former NASA astronaut), Dumitru Bragish (former Moldova Premier), Emil Constantinescu (former Romania President), Mirko Cvetkovic (former Serbia Premier), Ameenah Gurib Fakim (former Mauritius President), Yves Leterme (former Belgium Premier), Giorgi Margvelashvili (former Georgia President),
Mary Robinson (former Ireland Premier), Viktor Yushchenko (former Ukraine President), etc.