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Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus faces jail in Bangladesh court ruling

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DHAKA: Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus was facing six months in jail with a court set to rule on Monday on a labour law case decried by his supporters as politically motivated.
Yunus, 83, is credited with lifting millions out of poverty with his pioneering microfinance bank but has earned the enmity of longtime Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor.
Hasina has made a series of scathing verbal attacks against the internationally respected 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was once seen as a political rival.
She is all but certain to win a fifth term in national elections next week after an opposition boycott.
Economist Yunus and three colleagues from Grameen Telecom, one of the firms he founded, are accused of violating labour laws when they failed to create a workers’ welfare fund in the company.
All four deny the charges.
A labour court in the capital Dhaka has fixed the verdict for Monday afternoon, lawyers said.
“We proved that Professor Muhammad Yunus and others have violated the mandatory requirements of the labour laws,” Khurshid Alam Khan, the lead prosecutor, told AFP ahead of the verdict.
He said Yunus could be sentenced to up to six months in prison if convicted.
“We hope the court will hand down the highest punishment,” he said.
Yunus is facing more than 100 other charges over labour law violations and alleged graft.
Yunus told reporters after one of the hearings last month that he had not profited from any of the more than 50 social business firms he had set up in Bangladesh.
“They were not for my personal benefit,” Yunus said.
One of his lawyers, Khaja Tanvir, told AFP the case was “meritless, false and ill-motivated”.
“The sole aim of the case is to harass and humiliate him in front of the world,” he said.
In August, 160 global figures, including former US president Barack Obama and ex-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, published a joint letter denouncing “continuous judicial harassment” of Yunus.
The signatories, including more than 100 of his fellow Nobel laureates, said they feared for “his safety and freedom”.
Critics accuse Bangladeshi courts of rubber-stamping decisions made by Hasina’s government.
Her administration has been increasingly firm in its crackdown on political dissent, and Yunus’s popularity among the Bangladeshi public has for years earmarked him as a potential rival.
Amnesty International accused the government of “weaponizing labour laws” when Yunus went to trial in September and called for an immediate end to his “harassment”.
Criminal proceedings against Yunus were “a form of political retaliation for his work and dissent”, it said.

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