Bangladesh To Fire Govt Lawyer Who Voiced Support For Yunus


By Kamran Reza Chowdhury

Bangladesh’s government said Tuesday that it planned to terminate one of its senior lawyers for breaking ranks to air support for Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning microcredit pioneer who faces a slew of criminal and civil cases at home. 

During an impromptu press conference on Monday, Imran Ahmed Bhuiyan, a deputy attorney general in Sheikh Hasina’s government, called the charges against Yunus “a judicial harassment.” 

He was echoing an open letter to the prime minister from more than 170 Nobel laureates and global leaders last week. Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with U2 leader singer Bono were among those urging Hasina to stop going after Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, via the courts.  

While speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Anisul Huq, the law and justice minister, did not address the specifics of Bhuiyan’s statement, but said he had directed officials to initiate the process of terminating the deputy attorney general for his unauthorized contact with the media. 

“[Bhuiyan] is assigned with the attorney general’s office. If he wanted to speak to the press, he should either have resigned or obtained permission from the attorney general. But he did neither,” Huq said, promising a formal investigation into Bhuiyan’s actions.

In Bangladesh, the attorney general and lawyers under him argue before high courts on behalf of the government. They have no executive authority, which falls under the jurisdiction of the law and justice minister.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement saying it was “very concerned by the continued intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates and civil society leaders,” including Yunus. 

High Commissioner Volker Türk “calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and other civil society representatives to carry out their essential work for the welfare and protection of all people in Bangladesh,” the statement said. 

The strongly worded statement also highlighted what it called “smear campaigns” against the Nobel laureate by “the highest levels of government” as well as the “harassment and intimidation” of two human rights activists who face criminal charges for a fact-finding report they published 10 years ago on extra-judicial killings.

In Bangladesh, it’s unusual for government officials to take a public stand against the government’s position.

Badiul Alam Majumder, who leads a prominent civil society organization in Dhaka, recalled the last instance of government officials defying the government in 1995, during the tenure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the party which is now in the opposition.

“They even joined a public rally called ‘The Platform for the Masses’ and stood in solidarity with the then-opposition Awami League’s demands at that time,” he said. “When the Awami League came to power a year later, the rebelling officials did not face any disciplinary actions.”

In his comments to reporters, the deputy attorney general also said he had declined to sign a counter statement against Yunus as instructed by the attorney general’s office via a WhatsApp text message.

While talking to reporters at his office, Attorney General A.M. Amin Uddin denied having instructed his subordinates to sign such a statement. However, pro-government associations and professionals have in recent days circulated a series of statements condemning the global letter in support of Yunus. 

On Monday, a pro-ruling party academic association at Dhaka University organized a protest rally on campus and reportedly called on the Nobel committee to rescind its award to Yunus. Led by a former press adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a delegation of 50 newspaper editors also criticized the letter as an attempt to interfere with Bangladesh’s domestic judicial system.

Professor Asif Nazrul, who chairs the law department at Dhaka University and is a vocal government critic, said: “The series of incidents of protests and statements against Dr. Muhammad Yunus demonstrates how the Awami League government over the last 15 years has heavily politicized the government and autonomous institutions, the media and other entities.”

Yunus, who is celebrated worldwide for his work on poverty alleviation, has come under increasing pressure from Hasina’s government since she returned to power in 2009, beginning with his forced resignation from Grameen Bank, a microfinancing trailblazer that he started.

In recent years, the government ordered investigations against him and several entities that he is associated with, including the filing of an additional 18 charges of alleged violations of the country’s labor law last month.

At his press conference on Monday, Bhuiyan cast doubt about the credibility of those cases.

“We know very well how cases normally proceed in labor courts or at what pace. [The ongoing cases against Yunus] are being processed at an unusual speed,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Yunus’ lawyers cross-examined a witness for the prosecution in a case filed by a government labor inspection agency. 

At the courtroom, Abdullah Al-Mamun, one of the defense lawyers, directly called into question the authenticity of the report submitted by the inspection agency, even going as far as to label it “forgery.” 

Prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan denied the charge.


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