Jordan sentences two ex-officials over royal ‘sedition’ plot

Jordan sentences two ex-officials over royal ‘sedition’ plot

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Court sentences Bassem Awadallah, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid to 15 years in jail on charges of destabilizing the monarchy.

Security members stand guard outside a military court where the trial of former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah and a minor royal, Sherif Hassan Zaid, is set to take place in Amman, Jordan June 21, 2021. REUTERS/Muath Freij

A Jordanian court has sentenced a former royal aide and a minor royal to 15 years in jail on charges of attempting to destabilize the monarchy.

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 on Monday.

The court said it had confirmed evidence backing the charges against the pair and that they had both been determined to harm the monarchy by pushing the former heir to the throne Prince Hamzah as an alternative to the king.

Officers stand guard outside Jordan’s State Security Court, as it was set to announce its verdict in the trial of two officials accused of helping Prince Hamzah try to overthrow his half-brother King Abdullah II, in Amman [Mohammad Ali/EPA]

The charges shocked Jordan because they exposed rifts within the ruling Hashemite family that has been a beacon of stability in a volatile region in recent years.

Awadallah, a former finance minister who was a driving force behind Jordan’s liberal economic reforms, was charged with agitating to undermine the political system and committing acts that threaten public security and sowing sedition.

He pleaded not guilty and has said he had nothing to do with the case.

The pair were also alleged to have sought foreign assistance. They denied the charges, and Alaa al-Khasawneh, a lawyer for Sharif, said they would appeal the verdict.

‘Personal ambition’

In clashing narratives, Hamzah is either a champion of everyday Jordanians suffering from economic mismanagement and corruption, or a disgruntled royal who never forgave King Abdullah for taking away his title of the crown prince in 2004 and giving it to his eldest son. His popularity stems from ties he has nurtured with Jordan’s tribes, the bedrock of Hashemite rule.

The estranged prince avoided punishment last April after pledging allegiance to the king, defusing a crisis that had led to his house arrest. In a series of video statements, he said he was being silenced for speaking out against corruption and poor governance by the ruling system.

While the former crown prince himself was not on trial, the 13-page charge sheet said Hamzah, 41, “was determined to fulfil his personal ambition to rule, in violation of the Hashemite constitution and customs”.

Lt. Col. Muwafaq al-Masaeed, a military judge, announced the verdict following a closed-door trial that consisted of just six hearings.

Awadallah and his co-defendant had been on trial since June 21 and had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Images released by authorities showed the two men, in light blue prison uniforms, being escorted into the court on Monday by security personnel in black uniforms.

Before the verdict was announced, Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Awadallah’s US-based family, told The Associated Press that the trial was “completely unfair”.

Awadallah says he has been been beaten, subjected to electrical shock and was threatened with future mistreatment “if he didn’t confess,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan, a former US attorney for Massachusetts and former acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said any conviction would be appealed.

Allegations of foreign assistance

Fares Braizat, chairman of political thinktank Nama-Strategic Intelligence Solutions, said that this is the “highest maximum penalty” for the charges they were accused with.

“The case will depend on further ramifications,” Braizat told Al Jazeera. “I’m not sure if there is a legal procedure they can follow with the state security court, but I think the charges they received would bring a lot of satisfaction to public opinion.”

In the days leading up to the trial, the alleged conspirators sought foreign assistance to exploit the king’s perceived vulnerability at a time when he was under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to accept a now-defunct Trump administration Middle East plan sometimes referred to as “the deal of the century”.

Jordan has expressed concern the plan would weaken the monarch’s historical role as guardian of key Muslim and Christian sites in occupied East Jerusalem and a pillar of Hashemite claims to legitimacy.

Allegations about foreign outreach focus on Awadallah, who holds Jordanian, US and Saudi citizenship, and once served as the king’s official envoy to Riyadh. He has close ties to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

“I haven’t really seen such a figure disliked this much by Jordanians over the past 15, 20 years,” Braizat said, referring to Awadallah.

“I think this would bring into question why would such an individual … do what he did,” Braizat said.

“One would understand the political context regionally and internationally that Awadallah was very much interested in supporting the Likud party policy on the Palestinian issue, which is basically the resettlement of Palestinians somewhere else,” he said.

“I think he has pursued that actively in Jordan. He was stopped many times but he kept trying. I think this was his last attempt to serve Israel’s agenda at the expense of Jordan and Palestine.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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The Radical Outlook

The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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