By Nava Thakuria*
Embarrassment for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as 177 global leaders stand behind Professor Muhammad Yunus
There are wild speculations that the combined opposition parties may project the country’s lone Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus as their leader in the 2024 Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.
Amid such speculations, the politics in Dhaka heated up further when 177 global leaders including 106 Nobel laureates, elected officials, and business and civil society leaders, flashed a letter to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, urging her government to stop harassing the octogenarian economist-turned-revolutionary banker and an acclaimed social thinker.
They argued that the Bangladesh government has been persecuting the country’s lone Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus for the last 13 years.
It may be mentioned that Prof Yunus had tried to form a political party in 2007 and named it Nagarik Shakti (People’s Power). However, he abandoned the idea citing reasons for non-cooperation by the common Bangladeshi nationals.
Observers believe that PM Hasina has grown the political rivalry against Prof Yunus since then. The world’s longest-serving female government head apprehends that Prof Yunus can influence the voters against AL candidates in the forthcoming polls.
The letter referred to a current judicial proceeding against Prof Yunus and termed it as a broader assault on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Bangladesh. Expressing solidarity with 34 “courageous” Bangladeshi nationals, who earlier issued a letter of support to the creator of the Grameen movement, the global leaders appealed to citizens across the globe to support the campaign in favour of Prof Yunus.
Even as they commended the “laudable progress” made by Bangladesh since its formation in 1971, the global leaders, however, expressed a “deep concern” over the threats to democracy and human rights in the country. They alleged that Prof Yunus was being targeted by the government with judicial harassment. The global leaders also mentioned an earlier appeal by 40 global personalities expressing concern about the Nobel laureate’s safety and freedom.
“We respectfully ask that you (Prime Minister Hasina) immediately suspend the current judicial proceedings against Prof Yunus, followed by a review of the charges by a panel of impartial judges drawn from within your nation with some role for internationally recognized legal experts. We are confident that any thorough review of the anti-corruption and labour law cases against him will result in his acquittal,” said the open letter, issued on August 28, 2023.
The letter appreciated Prof Yunus’ work and stated it was inspirational to all of them which focuses on how social business can be a force for international progress resulting in zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. The letter added that Prof Yunus is a leading example of how Bangladesh and Bangladeshi nationals have contributed to global progress in recent decades.
“We sincerely wish that he (Prof Yunus) be able to continue his path-breaking work free of persecution or harassment,” stated the letter adding that they expect PM Hasina to ensure the resolution of these legal issues in an expedient, impartial, and just manner. The influential global citizens asserted that they would join with millions of concerned citizens around the world in closely tracking how these matters are resolved in the coming days.
The signatories included Nobel laureates namely Barack H. Obama (former president of the United States of America), José Ramos-Horta, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Albert Arnold Gore Jr., Tawakkol Karman, Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad, Maria Ressa, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Juan Manuel Santos, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Jody Williams, Peter Agre, Thomas R. Cech, Martin Chalfie, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, Walter Gilbert, Alan Heeger, Richard Henderson, Edmund Phelps, Vernon L. Smith, Joseph E. Stiglitz, J. M. Coetzee, Herta Muller, Orhan Pamuk, among others.
The letter was also signed by Ban Ki-moon (former United Nations Secretary-General), Hillary Rodham Clinton (former U.S. Secretary of State), Narayana Murthy (Founder, Infosys), Ron Garan (former NASA astronaut), Dumitru Bragish (former Moldova Premier), Emil Constantinescu (former Romania President), Mirko Cvetkovic (former Serbia Premier), Ameenah Gurib Fakim (former Mauritius President), Yves Leterme (former Belgium Premier), Giorgi Margvelashvili (former Georgia President), Mary Robinson (former Ireland Premier), Viktor Yushchenko (former Ukraine President), etc.
These leaders also asked Hasina to ensure a free, fair, and participatory national election in the coming months (probably January 2024). Stating that the previous two national elections in Bangladesh lacked legitimacy, the international citizens expressed hope that the administration of the election (for its 350-member Jatiya Sansad) be acceptable to all major parties in the South Asian nation. The ruling Awami League won over 250 seats in the December 2018 elections and PM Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is respected as Bangla’s Father of the Nation, still enjoys the reputation and electoral advantages over the opposition parties.