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Nobel Prize winner in need

Nobel Prize winner in need

Muhammad Yunus
Nobel Prize winner in need

As a "banker of the poor" Muhammad Yunus became famous all over the world. In his homeland Bangladesh, however, the anger of ruler Hasina has been haunting him for years. Now he is threatened with prison - and the 83-year-old economist is calling for help.




At the Munich Security Conference at the weekend, Sheikh Hasina was once again allowed to present herself as she likes to see herself: as a world politician that the West listens to.


After meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, the head of government of the country of Bangladesh, which has 170 million inhabitants, sat opposite Olaf Scholz (SPD) in the afternoon and discussed the "Russian-Ukrainian war" and the "genocide in Gaza" in a very warm atmosphere, as her foreign minister announced: Both would have to be "stopped".


Then Hasina Wajed, as the woman's real name is called, called on the chancellor that the German economy should invest in the high-tech sector of the country, which was still considered the poorest in the world in 1987 and today, according to the government, wants to have reduced poverty from 80 to less than 20 percent. In the opposite direction, the second largest clothing exporter in the world after China should no longer only sew T-shirts and shirts for Boss, C&A and Tchibo and ship to Hamburg, but also export labor, for example for the understaffed German health care system. Scholz thanked Hasina "again" on her re-election in January.


Compulsion to nationalize?


This sounds as if Bangladesh is a dream destination for the German industry, which wants to reduce its political risk in China and instead invest more south in Asia. The economist Muhammad Yunus, who has been fighting against poverty in his home country since the 1970s, should actually be happy about that. His idea of issuing microcredits to micro-entrepreneurs - 30 dollars for bamboo for furniture construction, for example, or a bicycle for courier trips - earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. But the man who not only founded the world-famous Grameen Bank, but also the largest private mobile phone provider in Bangladesh in other companies, has experienced in recent days first-hand what is flourishing investors that arouse Sheikh Hasina's anger.


On Thursday, when the head of government landed in Munich in the afternoon of German time, Yunus reports to the F.A.Z. on the phone that members of the army, intelligence services and police had forcibly gained access to the offices of his companies and kept them occupied for days. The intruders had temed to be emisssaries of Grameen Bank, which has long been under the control of the state. However, ID cards or any other documents would not have shown them.


For days, the men would have monitored access to the offices and intimidated employees - according to the founder with the aim of forcing the companies to nationalize. Observers believe the government could be keen on the dividends with which Yunus finances social projects such as hospitals. "I'm doing very bad," says the 83-year-old. "They are in the process of destroying my life's work."


You, by that means Hasina and her helpers. The woman, who is still in Munich that she has become the "central figure of the security conference" after talks with the Prime Minister of Denmark and a Facebook lobbyist, among other things, suffers from a huge inferiority complex, according to Yunus' supporters. Hardly anyone in the world knows her name - in contrast to Muhammad Yunus, about whom the F.A.Z. wrote in 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize is not completely surprising, after all, the "banker of the poor" is a "legend" in development policy.


Those who are in the spotlight like this do not only attract approval


In fact, the then American President Bill Clinton had already demanded the honor of Yunus in 1994. After Yunus' conviction in January, a letter to Hasina demanded the freedom of the economist, who, among others, signed 127 Nobel Prize winners, especially Barack Obama.


Those who are in the spotlight in this way do not only attract encouragement. A lot has already been messed with about Yunus: His microcredits did not alleviate poverty, the social entrepreneur is addicted to credit and continues to travel even after retirement age, instead of withdrawing to the elderly part, as it should be. But the fact that Hasina has had well over 100 court proceedings against the professor for almost a decade and a half, dedicated entire speeches to him in parliament and called him the "bloodsucker of the poor" can hardly be interpreted otherwise than an obsession.


Yunus can't really explain where Hasina's hatred of his person comes from. The last time he met the daughter of the murdered state founder Mujibur Rahman in 1997 and had a nice conversation with her when Hasina was Prime Minister for the first time. He rejects the interpretation that as a newly elected Nobel Prize winner, he later flirted with founding a party himself in view of his huge popularity in his home country and thus became a rival of Hasina.


After this is back in power in 2009, the former pioneer of Bangladesh's democracy takes a tightly authoritarian course that drives her internationally to the side of China alongside Russia, from which she looks at the model of rule: dictatorship with economic growth, which amounts to an average of over 6 percent except in the pandemic year.


Yunus faces a much higher punishment


Before the election in January, Hasina had large parts of opposition and critics arrested, which parties other than Hasina's Awami League usually did not even compete in the first place. As a result, according to official information, only 40 percent of those entitled to voters drove it to the ballot box, which, according to the general assessment, is still excessively exaggerated.


The European Union expressed its disapproval about the country's course as well as the USA, which described the vote as "neither free nor fair". And so Scholz had in fact not congratulated Bangladesh's ruler on her re-election, but only on the "re-inauguration".


After the accusations that Yunus had enriched himself at Grameen Bank all collapsed, a court and three other employees of the mobile operator Grameen Telecom sentenced him to six months in prison at the end of January - for alleged violations of labor law. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan, who had followed the trial on the ground, called the verdict a "farce". Sheikh Hasina said that she had "nothing to do with it", but could not resist the wording that Yunus had "robbed" his employees.


It is such words that panic the family of the condemned person. "My daughter wakes up every morning and is very afraid that they will come and throw me into prison," says Yunus in conversation with the F.A.Z.


Especially since he is threatened with a much higher penalty. Bangladesh's anti-corruption commission accuses Yunus and employees of Grameen Telecom of laundering money and cheating the employees for their pension fund. "I have decided not to own anything in my life," says Yunus to the F.A.Z. about the accusations.


On the question of whether Bangladesh is still a constitutional state in which he can hope for an acquittal, he would rather not be quoted. But it is clear to him that he could soon be sentenced to years instead of months in prison.


Fear for the father


If Yunus had to take up his sentence, he would be the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in the world who is in prison next to the Myanmar politician Aung San Suu Kyi. The Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, who received the prize for his fight for human rights, died in prison in his home country in 2017.


Yunus' other daughter Monica sings at the opera in the USA and was interviewed in her fear for her father after the verdict by the CNN star presenter Christiane Amanpour, in whom she described the accusations as "absolutely wrong." Monica constantly tells him to save himself from this hell and leave Bangladesh, reports Yunus.


People all over the world deny him to go into exile. The Berlin economist Günter Faltin has offered his friend a rent-free apartment in the Grunewald, but Yunus does not want to. "If I left my country, I would become a refugee," he tells the F.A.Z. "I still hope that my case will attract the attention of the world."


Source: F.A.Z.




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