By Ruma Paul and Sudipto Ganguly
DHAKA (Reuters) – A Bangladesh court has sentenced the country’s only Nobel laureate, Mohammad Yunus, to six months in jail over labour law violations, a crime he says he did not commit, days ahead of a Jan. 7 general election boycotted by the main opposition party.
Below is a summary of key facts in Yunus’ tangles with the law in Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina often criticising the 83-year-old, who won the peace prize in 2006 for his work in making microloans accessible to the impoverished:
* Yunus started a microfinance movement in late 1976, offering loans below $100 apiece to women in Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong to help them escape poverty and vulnerability to loan sharks.
* He and Grameen Bank, the rural-focused microfinance organization he founded, became Bangladesh’s first Nobel winner for providing small loans to the poor, a practice that spread to more than 100 nations from the United States to Uganda.
* Yunus, a professor of economics who had been Grameen Bank’s managing director since 2000, was removed as head of the bank in 2011 by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government on the grounds he had stayed on past the legal retirement age of 60.
* His popular image and fame came under fresh focus in 2007 as he attempted to form a political party, when the country was under a de-facto military government with a civilian outfit.
* Despite his microfinance’s global success, there have been concerns such lenders charge excessive interest rates.
* A Norwegian documentary alleged in 2010 that Grameen bank was dodging taxes. The documentary sparked criticism in Bangladesh and abroad of Yunus, whose bank has provided about $10 billion in small loans to people, most of them women, to fund businesses and help them escape poverty.
* Lauded abroad by politicians and financiers, Yunus has been under attack from Hasina’s government since the documentary alleged that Grameen Bank was dodging taxes. Hasina, in 2011, famously called Yunus a “blood-sucker of the poor” and sharply criticised Grameen Bank’s microlending practices.
* Yunus has denied financial irregularities and his supporters say he is being discredited by the government because of a feud with Hasina dating back to 2007, when he tried to setup a rival political party.
* Yunus faces more than 100 cases in court, including two criminal charges over labour law violations and alleged corruption.
* In September, Amnesty International called on the Bangladesh government to “immediately end their harassment and intimidation of Yunus”. The rights group called Monday’s court verdict a blatant abuse of labour laws and political retaliation for his work.
* 190 global leaders, including former United States President Barack Obama and over 100 Nobel laureates, wrote an open letter in August to Hasina urging her to stop “continuous judicial harassment” of Yunus.
* Reacting to Yunus’ conviction on Monday, Bangladesh’s Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said no one was above the law.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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