DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A labor court in Bangladesh’s capital sentenced Monday Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws.
Yunus, who pioneered using microcredit to help impoverished people, was present in court and was granted bail. The court gave the defense 30 days to appeal.
Grameen Telecom, which he founded as a non-profit, is at the center of the trial.
Sheikh Merina Sultana, head of the Third Labor Court of Dhaka, said in her verdict Yunus’ company violated labor laws: 67 of Grameen Telecom employees were supposed to be made permanent, and the employees’ participation and welfare funds were not formed. She also said that following company policy, 5% of the company’s dividends were supposed to be distributed to staff.
Sultana found Yunus, as chairman of the company, and three other company directors guilty, sentencing each to six months in jail.
Grameen Telecom owns 34% of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor.
The Nobel laureate is also facing an array of other charges involving alleged corruption and fund embezzlement.
Yunus’ supporters believe the charges were filed to harass him amid a wider complex political context and frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s governmnet has denied the allegations.
Monday’s verdict came as Bangladesh is preparing for its next general election on Jan. 7, amid a boycott by the country’s main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasnina’s arch enemy. The party said they didn’t have any confidence in the premier’s administration to hold a free and fair election.
In August, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates in an open letter urged Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Yunus.
The leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 Nobel laureates, said in the letter that they were deeply concerned by recent threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.
Hasina responded sharply and said she would welcome international experts and lawyers to come to Bangladesh to assess the legal proceedings and examine documents involving the charges against Yunus.
In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs who would not normally qualify for bank loans. The bank’s success in lifting people out of poverty led to similar microfinancing efforts in many other countries.
Hasina’s administration began a series of investigations of Yunus after coming to power in 2008. She became enraged when Yunus announced he would form a political party in 2007 when a military-backed government ran the country and she was in prison, although he did not follow through on the plan.
Yunus had earlier criticized politicians in the country, saying they are only interested in money. Hasina called him a “bloodsucker” and accused him of using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as head of Grameen Bank.
In 2011, Hasina’s administration began a review of the bank’s activities. Yunus was fired as managing director for allegedly violating government retirement regulations. He was put on trial in 2013 on charges of receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book.
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