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A Bangladeshi court this week convicted Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and three others over labor law violations, a verdict that critics described as politically motivated as the South Asian nation prepares for general elections this weekend, the Independent reported.
A Dhaka labor court found the defendants guilty of failing to create a welfare fund for 67 employees of Yunus’ Grameen Telecom.
All four denied any wrongdoing. Yunus’ lawyer said he would appeal the verdict, adding that the case targeted his client because of his criticism of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Yunus is known in Bangladesh as the “banker of the poor” and is recognized worldwide for introducing a microfinance program that has become a development paradigm: It provides small loans – typically under $100 – to the rural poor, especially women, to set up their own businesses.
He and his Grameen Bank jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their efforts to lift people out of poverty.
Over the past few years, Yunus has repeatedly clashed with Hasina, who has accused the 83-year-old banker of “sucking blood from the poor.” He previously floated the idea of setting up a political party to challenge Hasina’s Awami League, but soon dropped it citing a lack of support.
Yunus still faces more than 100 other charges over labor law violations and corruption. His supporters, including international leaders and human rights advocates, have called on the government to stop the “persecution” of Yunus.
The verdict comes as Hasina’s party attempts to secure a fifth term in the Jan. 7 elections. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has boycotted the vote after many of its leaders were either jailed or fled into exile.