Following on an August letter signed by 190 global leaders, including 108 Nobel laureates, demanding that the Bangladesh Prime Minister end her campaign violating the human and legal rights of Professor Yunus, 12 prominent U.S. Senators from both major U.S. parties wrote their own critical letter to the PM today, which was sent with an accompanying press release.
They wrote, “We write urging you to end to the persistent harassment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus—and the pattern of abusing laws and the justice system to target critics of the government more broadly.” And they added that Professor Yunus’ positive “efforts should not be undermined over ongoing political vendettas, especially in a democratic nation of laws.”
They concluded by saying, “Ending the harassment of Professor Yunus, and others exercising their freedom of speech to criticize the government, will help continue this important relationship [between the United States and Bangladesh].”
Interestingly, the Senators did not congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on her recent uncontested and disputed “re-election,” implying that they did not recognize it as legitimate.
This comes one day after the highly respected Professor Rehman Sobhan — who was once appointed as the chairman of Grameen Bank by the Prime Minister when she was in power in the 1990s — wrote a highly critical article in the Daily Star and the Dhaka Tribune warning Bangladesh’s citizens that they have much to fear from their own government if such a flawed legal case against Professor Yunus could proceed as far as it has. He lamented, “Over the years the weaponization of the judicial system has become part of a wider assault on our institutions of democracy and governance…. The case of Professor Yunus is symptomatic of this erosion in the credibility of our institutions. The triviality and narrowness of the case against Yunus would not have made it to first base in any well functioning judicial system.”
The entire text of the U.S. Senate letter appears below:
January 22, 2024
Dear Prime Minister Hasina,
We write urging you to end the persistent harassment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus—and the pattern of abusing laws and the justice system to target critics of the government more broadly.
For more than a decade, Professor Yunus has faced more than 150 unsubstantiated cases brought against him in Bangladesh. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have noted irregularities in proceedings against him, including the most recent six month prison sentencing for allegedly violating the country’s labor laws that is being appealed. These reputable organizations argue the speed and repeated use of criminal proceedings are indicative of politically motivated judicial abuses. Moreover, the repeated and sustained harassment of Yunus mirrors what many Bangladeshi civil society members also face in an increasingly restrictive environment.
Yunus’ pioneering work on microfinance offered greater economic promise for many Bangladeshis and millions of impoverished people around the world. The United States Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013, recognizing his pioneering contributions to the fight against global poverty. Such efforts should not be undermined over ongoing political vendettas, especially in a democratic nation of laws.
The United States values its longstanding relationship with Bangladesh, which includes close bilateral and multilateral coordination on numerous common interests. Ending the harassment of Professor Yunus, and others exercising their freedom of speech to criticize the government, will help continue this important relationship.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.