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Bangladesh's Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunis faces trouble in his homeland

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus is often called the banker to the poor. He founded the Grameen Bank, which provides small loans to very low-income people to help them run enterprises which improve their lives and also reduce the need for aid. His ideas have been replicated around the world. But in his homeland of Bangladesh, he is facing a fresh bout of legal troubles. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) The Simpsons.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Muhammad Yunus is famous, "Simpsons" guest appearance famous. This is from an episode where Lisa wants to donate her inheritance money to a good cause.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SIMPSONS")

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: I'm Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank. And, oh, yeah, I'm also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

HADID: But in Bangladesh, he's more controversial - to some. The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has long been hostile to Yunus, ever since 2007 when fresh from winning a Nobel, he briefly floated the idea of entering politics. To the supporters of Hasina and her Awami League party, that seemed like a threat. Geoffrey Macdonald is a Bangladesh expert from the U.S. Institute of Peace.

GEOFFREY MACDONALD: The fact that he presented himself as a possible political alternative has drawn the ire of the Awami League ever since.

HADID: And he's faced a slew of legal cases. And now he's accused of siphoning off dividends owned to workers, of labor law violations and corruption. The fresh allegations made headline news.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Yunus has not publicly commented on these latest allegations, but it's drawn the attention of his powerful supporters outside Bangladesh, who described them as judicial harassment. This week, dozens of them, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, signed an open letter calling on the prime minister to suspend legal proceedings. Sam Daley-Harris is one of the less famous signers. He worked alongside Yunus for years in a hunger eradication organization. And he fears...

SAM DALEY-HARRIS: The various court cases end up in imprisonment of Muhammad Yunus.

HADID: But Shah Ali Farhad, a former adviser to the prime minister, says this is about accountability before the law. He accuses Yunus of bullying.

SHAH ALI FARHAD: Yunus has been using his powerful connections in the West to intimidate the government of Bangladesh.

HADID: This all comes ahead of January elections in Bangladesh, which critics say has become increasingly authoritarian under the rule of Prime Minister Hasina. Analysts say that makes it difficult for the government to claim that this is simply a legal matter.

SHAHIDUL ALAM: The fact that he is obviously being vilified and victimized is something which is fairly obvious to anyone who has any sense.

HADID: Shahidul Alam is a prominent photographer. He was jailed for several months five years ago after criticizing the prime minister. And he says the idea that Yunus, once the pride of Bangladesh, could also be jailed is grotesque.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEL CHRISTIAN GOFFIN'S "KRONETICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.

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