Honorable Senators, Law Is Equal for All in Bangladesh

Hiren Pandit: According to the Constitution of Bangladesh, the Judiciary is completely independent and separate from the Executive. As the head of the executive department, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh cannot stop any judicial proceedings or interfere in any kind of judicial proceedings. Besides, issuing statements or letters about ongoing judicial proceedings is a travesty of justice.

Three Lawyers of the Supreme Court have given a counter letter to withdraw the letter sent by the 12 senators of the upper house of the United States Parliament to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calling for an end to the harassment of Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus with Senator Richard Durbin recently by email and registered mail.

The workers have filed a case against Dr. Yunus under the Labor Act to recover their just demands. There is no opportunity for the Prime Minister of the country to intervene. So according to the letter sent by the 12 senators, they are against the weak workers and in favor of the powerful owners, which is a violation of the ILO Convention.

The letter sent to the lawyers also said that issuing such a summon on the ongoing internal judicial proceedings of a country is unethical and constitutes unwarranted interference in the internal affairs, motivated by ulterior motives and reprehensible. Therefore, the letter given to the Prime Minister is requested to be withdrawn immediately. Dr. Yunus was prosecuted for violating certain provisions of the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006, such as failure to regularize 67 contractual employees, failure to set up an employee participation and welfare fund, and failure to contribute five percent of the company’s dividends.

In this fund Dr. Yunus failed to refute any of the allegations leveled against him. Dr. Yunus’ lawyers tried to convince the court that the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006 did not apply to Grameen Telecom as they had their own employment rules. However, Section 3 of the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006 states that an organization’s employment rules must provide for better labor rights. However, Dr. Yunus’s lawyers failed to prove that Grameen Telecom’s employment provisions were better than the Bangladesh Labor Court 2006.

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly assured that Dr. Yunus can hire lawyers from anywhere in the world to prosecute his case and get a judgment in his favor. If Nobel laureate Dr. Yunus’s well-wishers find any legal fault with his recent six-month prison sentence for violating the country’s labor laws, they should know the fact that all are equal under the law in Bangladesh. This is not the only example of a Bangladeshi Nobel laureate being convicted. One cannot help but be surprised when the so-called wise and influential people of the country and abroad advocate for a man of controversial behavior like Dr. Yunus.

When a person becomes internationally known and famous, does he rise above the law courts of his country? Use international fame and reputation to collect his interest and get a license to be free from the law by cheating and depriving other people? Several Nobel laureates in different countries of the world have been punished for their crimes. Many politicians were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize such as Henry Kissinger who destroyed East Asia, Barack Obama who destroyed Libya and Abi Ahmed who later led a civil war. They have all paid their debt to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee by causing death and destruction.

So many times, a gold medal or a Nobel prize does not guarantee that an awardee cannot be a criminal. Rather, it may prove that the awards were given to the wrong persons and thereby dishonor the awards without irrefutable evidence. It can be easily assumed that no police station or court would have the courage to take a case against a Nobel Prize laureate like Dr. Yunus. The long-deprived aggrieved workers of Grameen Telecom sued him under prevailing labor laws. Moreover, the recent letter to 12 US senators that has been accused of constant harassment by the government against Dr. Yunus is also questionable. Ignoring everything prudent senators Dr. Yunus is given such a character certificate that one cannot even think of committing a crime against a person like him ratherfor the past decade and a half. Everyone in the country and abroad is more or less aware that Dr. Yunus is sitting with a passion and latent desire to sit in the seat of power by destroying the image of the government and the country in the international arena.

Dr. Yunus is the only Nobel laureate of Bangladesh. It is also true that he is the friend and favorite of many influential people in the world. Do we know the name of any other person with such a worldwide reputation who has defrauded the workers in a profitable business? Dr. Yunus was sentenced to six months imprisonment by a labor court in Dhaka on 1 January 2024. If this trial process is avoided, it would not prove the statement that the law in Bangladesh is not equal for everyone! Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, famous and infamous. The recent letter written by 12 distinguished senators of the United States to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has created a storm of discussion in the political arena of Bangladesh.

The content of the letter is Nobel laureate Dr. Yunus’s concerns about the trial process of his expectation of impunity. The matter has given rise to debates on whether and its relevance to the level of international intervention in the internal affairs of a country. Appropriate questions have been raised about how reasonable it is to give such political letters to the top senators of a country like the United States by interfering in the legal process of another country.

Questions have been raised about the legitimacy and acceptability of such unwarranted interference in the legal process of a sovereign country. Senators including influential figures like Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Todd Young, Tim Kaine, and others, Dr. Yunus expressed their collective fear of the possible consequences of Yunus’s trial, calling it “unrelenting harassment”.

The senators’ letter urged Sheikh Hasina to address these concerns and, in their words, stop the abuse of Bangladesh’s judicial system. Learned US senators have strongly sided with Dr. Yunus and have previously influenced or written open letters with world leaders. The statements of 40 eminent persons and then 160 other eminent persons were also discussed. 40 world leaders jointly published an open letter as a full-page ad in the Washington Post for US$73,033.

Dr. Yunus the senator’s letter seems to echo what has been saying for a long time about the cases and allegations brought against him. It would not be surprising if in the future it was discovered that the letter was written by Dr. Yunus himself and signed by the senators willingly or unwillingly. Surely this time some influential lobbyist firm took responsibility for collecting these signatures.

The letter is presented in such a way that elements of baseless bias and objective advocacy are painfully obvious. The demand of the letter Dr. Yunus faces hundreds of frivolous cases and some human rights organizations have cited irregularities in the legal proceedings against him. In response to the senators’ letter, the Bangladesh government and some intellectuals questioned the legality of such intervention, citing the need to emphasize its legal implications as sub judice.

It is a fundamental condition of all laws that no one can make any comment on any pending matter including the plaintiff and the defendant. Cannot directly or indirectly influence the judicial process in any way. Does the letter to US senators violate this universal legal requirement? The context of the legal case against Dr. Yunus has made the whole situation serious. Actionable allegations of labor rights violations and financial irregularities formed the basis of the case.

Prosecutors claim that the charges are not politically motivated, but are limited to Dr. Yunus’ activities at Grameen Telecom. Dr. Yunus is a victim of government political machinations, as he claims, or as a dozen US senators have claimed, with no objectivity. They claim that our Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been used as a tool to prosecute political opponents. On the other hand, they are blind to the obvious corruption of ruling party leaders, elected representatives and favored business friends.

Dr. Yunus’s dream of forming a political party and staying in power for a long time was not fulfilled. It is not known whether he blames Awami League or Sheikh Hasina for this failure, but his hostility towards the current government is not a secret. The present government’s tension with Dr. Yunus intensified when he continued to work as a lobbyist in various international conspiracies and activities against the Awami League government. It is alleged that Dr. Yunuswas also behind the cancelation of the financing of the Padma Bridge through the international propaganda of alleged corruption.

No example of Dr. Yunus’s humanitarian work was seen during the heinous persecution of minorities before and after the 2001 elections. He has never spoken about political violence in the country, any step against communal forces, or the rise and danger of militancy. Recently, Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud mentioned that investment in Bangladesh has not and will not be affected by the Dr. Yunus case and anti-national campaign. Dr. Yunus hired many lobbyist firms, but they could do nothing. Despite all this, many investments have come to the country. The government is not a party to Dr. Yunus’ case.

We want friendship with the United States. But we should not give up the national dignity we gained through the bloody liberation war of 1971. These factors should be kept in mind by US politicians that Bangladesh is providing affordable garment products. They will not find such a low price anywhere in the world. So, they are doing business with us, not because they are doing philanthropy and charity work but because their companies can make huge profits.

Nobel laureate economist and founder of Grameen Bank visited former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Bangladesh and ACC’s Senior Lawyer Mohammad Khurshid Alam Khan requested to monitor the proceedings of Dr. Yunus. He also mentioned that he will understand when he comes to the labor court. What did Dr. Yunus do with the workers?

Criticizing without seeing is doing us wrong. He said, I promise you (Hillary Clinton) will give full cooperation. I will give you all the documents you want. I will show you a copy of the judgment of the labor court and high court. Observe and discuss everything. If you don’t understand, bring two experts. Then give your decision. The ACC lawyer also said, “I think it does not suit a world leader like you to observe only based on emotion without knowing anything.” Earlier Hillary Clinton called on world leaders to stand by Dr. Yunus.

In it, the statement of more than 160 world leaders sent to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was attached. In August 2023more than 160 world leaders, including more than 100 Nobel laureates, have signed a new letter as legal proceedings against Dr. Yunus begin. It is rumored that millions of dollars have been paid to lobbyist firms to collect the opinions of 40 people and then 160 people. As conscientious citizens of the country, we are deeply concerned about such undue interference in the judicial process of Bangladesh.

Several legal and ethical questions come to the fore in the wake of the open letter. According to Article 94(4) of the Constitution, judges are completely independent in their judicial work. According to the constitution, no one involved in the administration of the state, including the Prime Minister, has the power to interfere in the judicial process. The statement of the said letter is contrary to the Constitution of Bangladesh and the fundamental rights of workers recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

We think that it involves degrading the judicial system of Bangladesh. According to the constitution, all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, everyone has the right to legal protection in the constitution earned at the cost of millions of lives. The trial of Dr. Yunus was also conducted independently and according to the existing laws of the country. In that context, the allegation of ‘judicial harassment’ is baseless and unintended. Besides Dr. Yunus as an independent citizen of Bangladesh has always continued all activities at the personal and institutional level in the country and abroad.

Hiren Pandit is a columnist
and a researcher.

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