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Jordanian ex-officials sentenced to 15 years in prison over alleged plot

Jordanian ex-officials sentenced to 15 years in prison over alleged plot
The trial may put an end to rifts that threatened to destabilise King’s Abdullah’s hold on power

A Jordanian court sentenced a former top aid to King Abdullah II and a minor member of the royal family on Monday to serve 15 years in prison on charges of plotting against the monarchy with foreign assistance.

The court found Bassem Awadallah, who once served as head of the royal court and finance minister in Jordan, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a royal family member, guilty of sowing sedition and plotting against the monarchy.

Both defendants had pleaded not guilty.

The verdict was announced on Monday by Lt. Col. Muwafaq al-Masaeed, a military judge, following a closed-door trial of just six hearings in what is widely known in Jordan as the “sedition case”.

According to the court, the pair conspired with Prince Hamzah bin al-Hussein, the king’s half-brother and former crown prince, to promote him as an alternative to the US’s strong ally King Abdullah II.

Prince Hamzah, 41, is a popular figure in Jordan. Hamzah maintained close relations with influential families and tribal figures since King Abdullah removed his title as crown prince in 2009, favouring his son Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, who currently holds the title.

The trial followed the arrest of 18 people in April for “attempts to jeopardise the safety and stability” of the country. Horas mais tarde, Prince Hamzah released a video, in Arabic and English, saying he has been placed under house arrest as part of a crackdown on critics. He denied any wrongdoings and accused the royal court of corruption, incompetence and harassment.

Contudo, Prince Hamzah has never been put on trial after the royal court said it had resolved the dispute with him when he pledged allegiance to King Abdullah.

Mr Awadallah US’s lawyer said his client, who has US citizenship, is alleged to have been tortured in the Jordanian prison. Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Mr Awadallah’s US-based family, told The Associated Press that Mr Awadallah has been beaten, subjected to electrical shock and was threatened with future mistreatment “if he didn’t confess,” Sullivan said.

The court denied requests made by Mr Awadallah’s Jordanian defence lawyers to call high profile witnesses, including Prince Hamzah, the current Jordanian prime minister Bishr al-Khasawneh, two princes, a minister and other members of the royal family.

The court denied that the trial was “unfair”, saying Mr Awadallah was given due process according to trial procedures in the Jordanian law. The court also denied the defendant was mistreated or pressured for confession.

The trial uncovered deep rifts within the Jordanian royal family that threatened the stability of a small but strategically important ally to the west. Hamzah’s mother, American-born Queen Noor, took to Twitter to defend her son, saying she was “praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander”.

Mr Awadallah was once an influential figure in Jordanian politics and one of Abdullah’s most trusted aides. He was also the driving force behind liberal economic reform in the poor kingdom before moving to Saudi Arabia, where he advised crown prince Mohamed bin Salman on economic reform and attracting foreign investment.

“The pair have now 30 days to appeal the verdict,” Bassam al-Talhony, Jordan’s former justice minister, told Aljazeera.

Mr Awadallah’s US defence team has maintained a low profile throughout the trial, but they are planning to play a more visible role in the appeal stage to raise awareness about his case in the US and internationally, according to Sullivan.

The Awadallah family has also urged the Biden administration to call for his release.

King Abdullah is now in the US on a three-week visit, which includes the first meeting by any Arab leader with President Biden on 17 julho.

Biden was among the first world leaders to voice their strong support for the monarchy after the slew of arrests in April.

Jordan receives $1.5 billion every year from the US as foreign assistance and plays a crucial role in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.