Authorities in Bangladesh must stop ‘weaponising’ the country’s labour laws and immediately end their harassment and intimidation of the Nobel Peace Laureate Mohammad Yunus, Amnesty International said today.
“Mohammad Yunus’ case is emblematic of the beleaguered state of human rights in Bangladesh, where the authorities have eroded freedoms and bulldozed critics into submission. The abuse of laws and misuse of the justice system to settle vendettas is inconsistent and incompatible with international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“It is time for the Government (of Bangladesh) to put an end to this travesty of justice,” she added.
Amnesty believes that initiating criminal proceedings against Mohammad Yunus and his colleagues for issues that belong to the civil and administrative arena is ‘a blatant abuse of labour laws and the justice system and a form of political retaliation for his work and dissent’.
The statement goes on to note the relatively lenient pursuit of those accused of much more egregious crimes under the Bangladesh Labour Act, yet have managed to avoid criminal prosecution.
“The unusual speed in which the trial against Mohammad Yunus is proceeding stands in stark contrast with other labour rights-related court cases in Bangladesh. This includes the fires at the BM Container Depot in 2022 and the Hashem Foods Factory in 2021 where almost 100 factory workers were killed due to the employer’s alleged negligence and non-compliance with safety standards. In both cases, the company owners faced no known criminal liability and evaded accountability by paying paltry compensations,” it said.
“The Bangladesh government’s relentless smear campaign against Mohammad Yunus shows the desperate lengths the current regime is willing to go to set an example through the hounding of an 83-year-old Nobel laureate,” said Callamard, a former UN special rapporteur.
She suggested the labour law would be put to better use against those guilty of serial violations, rather than misusing it to go after the microcredit pioneer: “Those violating labour rights must undoubtedly be held accountable. However, rather than misusing labour laws and criminal justice to harass Mohammad Yunus, the authorities should focus on combatting extensive threats to labour rights such as unsafe factories which continue to claim the lives of thousands of workers in Bangladesh.”
Dr Yunus, the chairman of the board at Grameen Telecom, is accused of employment-related violations and faces a criminal case under the Labour Act 2006. Three other board members, Ashraful Hasan, Nur Jahan Begum and Mohammad Shahjahan, face the same charges.