Jordan court jails two ex-officials for 15 years over alleged royal plot
A Jordanian state security court has sentenced two former officials to serve 15 years in prison over an alleged plot to foment unrest in the western-allied Middle East kingdom.
Bassem Awadallah, who has US citizenship and once served as a top aide to King Abdullah II; and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were found guilty of sedition and incitement charges. Each was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
They are alleged to have conspired with Prince Hamzah, the king’s half-brother, and to have sought foreign assistance. The verdict was announced on Monday, following a closed-door trial that consisted of just six hearings.
The royal family says it resolved the dispute with Hamzah, whose exact status is unknown but was never formally charged. Awadallah’s US lawyer says his client alleged he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life.
The three Jordanians were accused of fomenting unrest against the monarch while soliciting foreign help. Hamzah denied the allegations in video statements released in April after he was placed under house arrest, saying he was being silenced for speaking out against corruption and poor governance by the ruling system.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty to sedition and incitement charges.
Abdullah is expected in Washington on 19 July, when he will be the first Arab leader to meet the US president, Joe Biden, at the White House. Jordan is a close US ally in the Middle East and is seen as a key partner in eventually reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Awadallah’s US-based family, told the Associated Press that the closed-door trial had been ”completely unfair”.
Awadallah said he was beaten, subjected to electrical shocks and threatened with future mistreatment “if he didn’t confess”, Sullivan said.
The court denied requests by Jordanian defence lawyers to call witnesses and prosecutors only shared purported transcripts, but not audio, from surveillance of the alleged plotters.
The prosecutor’s office at the state security court denied the trial was unfair, saying Awadallah was given due process in line with Jordanian law and was not mistreated in any way. It said Awadallah only raised the torture allegations as the verdict neared.
Before the verdict was announced, Sullivan, a former US attorney for Massachusetts and former acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that based on the way the trial was conducted, a guilty verdict appeared to be a foregone conclusion. He said any conviction would be appealed.
Awadallah, who also holds Jordanian and Saudi citizenship, served as head of the royal court and government minister in Jordan. He has extensive business interests in the Gulf and has advised Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on attracting foreign investment. The Awadallah family urged the Biden administration to call for his release.