DHAKA — Fifty charities and public figures led by former Irish president Mary Robinson said Wednesday a series of attacks on Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was "politically orchestrated".
Yunus, who shared the Nobel peace prize in 2006 with Grameen Bank, the micro-lender he founded in the 1980s, has been targeted with "increasingly aggressive attacks" in his native Bangladesh, the group said in a statement.
Following the release of a Norwegian documentary in December which accused Yunus and Grameen of malpractice, the pioneer of microfinance has been vilified in the Bangladeshi press and seen his bank become the target of a government investigation.
Yunus, whose work issuing small loans to poor entrepreneurs has won him international acclaim, has also been summoned to appear in three separate court cases in Bangladesh over the last month, all nominally connected to Grameen.
Bangladesh's finance minister this week publicly called for Yunus to step aside from his role at the bank until the government's three-month long probe is completed.
In December, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused the Nobel laureate of treating Grameen Bank as his "personal property" and claimed the group was "sucking blood from the poor".
We "are all deeply concerned by the continued attacks against Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank, that are politically orchestrated," Robinson, the chair of a new Friends of Grameen committee, said in the statement.
The group, which includes former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, said in the statement that Yunus and Grameen were the victims of "a campaign of misinformation".
While some micro-lenders have become lucrative commercial enterprises, Yunus and Grameen Bank use "a sustainable model, with very transparent and reasonable interest rates, and making borrowers the owners of their bank," they said.
"Because of the importance of such a role model, our duty is to protect the integrity of Professor Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank," Robinson, also a former head of the UN's human rights agency, said.
Since the start of the attacks on Yunus in December, there has been speculation -- denied by the government -- that his troubles stem from personal differences with the prime minister.
The two fell out in 2007 when Yunus briefly proposed setting up a political party.
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