Nobel Laureate Yunus Says Outsiders Have Taken Over Grameen-Linked Non-Profits

By Ahammad Foyez

Unknown people have forcefully taken over eight non-profit organizations founded by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate said Thursday, in what appears to be the latest form of harassment against the Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer who is reviled by his home government.

Supporters of Yunus, 83, said the move reflected a “shocking breakdown of the rule of law” in the South Asian country.

At a news conference in Dhaka on Thursday, Yunus said people appointed by Grameen Bank had taken over eight of the other non-profits he had started and locked others out of these offices that are housed inside the Grameen Telecom Bhaban building in Dhaka.

“We go through many kinds of disasters. I have never seen such a disaster,” Yunus told reporters. The press conference started about 30 minutes late because of protesters outside the building where it was taking place.

“[T]hose who stand behind me and by my side have worked all their lives to make this a success and for the welfare of the people of the country,” he said.

Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in providing small loans to help poor people – especially women – lift themselves out of poverty through the Grameen Bank, which he had also founded. But Yunus, who is popular among Western leaders for his work in the field of poverty alleviation, was removed from the bank’s board of directors in 2011, amid a slew of legal battles with the government of Sheikh Hasina that are ongoing today.

“Suddenly … days ago [Feb. 12] we saw outsiders coming and taking it by force. We became outsiders to them,” he said, referring to the eight offices. “They are trying to run it on their terms. I didn’t understand how it happened.”

He said that the outsiders introduced themselves as the newly appointed chairmen and directors of the Yunus’ companies, adding they had allowed employees to enter the building to do their jobs.

Earlier this week, Protect Yunus, a group of supporters of the embattled Nobel laureate, described the scene when two of the eight nonprofits were taken over by unknown people, including one person who “identified himself as Colonel Rashid.”

“The invaders refused to show any proper identity cards and forcibly entered the offices without any proper order issued by any authority that allowed them to enter the building or those offices,” Protect Yunus said in a blog post on Monday. 

“Later, they started looking at the ID cards of the officers and employees of Grameen Telecom and Grameen Kalyan, and they prevented the employees from leaving the office, even after the scheduled office hours, in what amounted to illegal confinement and imprisonment. The employees were understandably terrified.”

The strangers eventually ordered everyone to leave the offices and “secured the offices with their own locks,” said the blog post, which alleged that the “illegal invasion” represented “a shocking breakdown of the rule of law in Bangladesh.

Challenging Yunus’ comments, the group that entered the building claimed it had appointed chairmen and a specific number of members as required by law.

A statement issued Thursday and signed by its media cell chief, Anju Ara Begum, said, “Dr. Muhammad Yunus at a press conference made several misleading, untrue, illegal and intentional statements.

“The Grameen Bank Board of Directors held a meeting on Feb. 12 and appointed representatives on behalf of the bank to implement the decisions of the 155th board meeting.”

On Thursday, Yunus said he had contacted police.

“The police initially did not accept [our complaint]. Then they came once, but they didn’t see any problem,” he said.

Shah Ali Police Inspector Masudur Rahman said his boss, Moudut Hawlader, was in charge of the investigation but was currently on leave.

“This is a very sensitive matter. I am not willing to make any further comment,” Masudur told BenarNews on Thursday.

Yunus said his eight companies, including Grameen Telecom, Grameen Communications and Grameen Fund, are all profitable on their own. Ten other companies were not targeted.

“These institutions were not built with money from Grameen Bank,” he said.

Prison sentence

In early January, the Third Labor Court of Dhaka sentenced Yunus to six months in prison for violating labor laws, the first conviction for the microcredit pioneer who faces criminal and civil cases that his supporters say are politically motivated.

On Jan. 28, the High Court granted permanent bail for Yunus and three of his Grameen Telecom colleagues. On Feb. 5, it told Yunus and his co-defendants to not leave the country without informing the Labor Appellate Tribunal.

Also on Jan. 28, global leaders including former U.S. President Barack Obama and 126 other Nobel laureates posted a third open letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calling for her to end “this travesty of justice” against Yunus.

The letter noted that Hasina had responded to a previous letter in August 2023 that the group should “‘send experts and lawyers to see if there is any injustice.’”

In accepting that invitation, the signees wrote, “We would like to propose a senior international lawyer to lead a small team of independent legal experts to conduct this review. We would like to begin immediately and request that any jail sentences for Professor Yunus and his colleagues be suspended pending the review.”

Badiul Alam Majumdar, a leader of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik, a civil society group headquartered in Dhaka, questioned the action of taking over Yunus’ companies.

“Professor Yunus is being harassed continuously, this incident is the latest evidence of it. It creates a negative perception for the country in the world,’ he told BenarNews.

“The government needs to be careful about this,” he said while calling for all actions to be open and transparent.