Jordan jails two ex-officials for 15 years over alleged royal plot
Two aides of a senior Jordanian royal accused of plotting against the country’s monarch, King Abdullah, have been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a state security court.
The convictions follow a month-long trial, held mostly behind closed doors, in the capital, Amman. Bassem Awadallah, a Jordanian national who also holds Saudi and US citizenship, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were found guilty of sedition after being accused of acting as proxies for the king’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah, who officials claim had conspired to unseat Abdullah.
State prosecutors and intelligence officials had accused the two men of attempting to rally tribal leaders behind Hamzah, who was removed from the line of succession to the throne by Abdullah in 2004.
Officials claimed both had used a series of events in Jordan in March to ramp up efforts to promote Hamzah. They characterised their alleged actions as incitement but said they fell short of being a coup.
Senior Jordanian officials told the Guardian in May they feared that all three men had been acting as proxies, wittingly or not, for the Trump administration and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Both the former US president and Prince Mohammed had seen King Abdullah as an obstacle to the implementation of the so-called ”deal of the century”, an imposed solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whose terms would have undermined the Jordanian throne.
Abdullah had refused to cooperate with the plan, earning the ire of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, Jared Kushner. The senior officials believed Awadallah, who has close ties to the Saudi royal court, may have been groomed for senior positions under Hamzah.
Abdullah was warned of the alleged plot by US officials in April, by which time Trump had left office and Kushner had lost his influence. Jordanian spies then monitored all three men, tapping their phones and listening to meetings with tribesmen. Some of the recordings were presented to the court in transcript form.
Last week, Israeli media reported that the country’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had met with Abdullah during an unannounced trip to Amman aimed at restoring relations that had been damaged under Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump and Prince Mohammed.
Jordanian officials believe that any Trump-led conspiracy did not involve the US or Israeli security establishments, both of which maintain close ties with Jordan. Amman receives an estimated $1.5bn (£1bn) from Washington annually.
Before the trial, Hamzah had reached an accommodation with the royal court and was not charged. However, he remains under a form of house arrest. He denied the allegations against him in video statements released in April. Lawyers for Awadallah and Sharif Hassan said they would appeal against the verdicts.
A US-based lawyer for Awadallah claimed his client had been tortured in detention. The Jordanan prosecutor’s office denied the claim and said torture allegations had only been raised as the court case drew to a close.
Abdullah is due in Washington next Monday, as the first Arab leader from the region to meet Joe Biden.