Two Jordanians sentenced to 15 years over alleged royal plot

National / World
Bassem Awadallah

FILE – In this May 25, 2008, file photo, Dr. Bassem Awadallah, then director of the Office of King Abdullah II of Jordan, attends a celebration to mark Independence Day, in Amman, Jordan. A Jordanian state security court is expected to announce a verdict Monday, July 12, 2021 in the trial of two former officials, Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, accused of plotting with the half-brother of King Abdullah II to foment unrest in the Western-allied kingdom. (AP Photo/Nader Daoud, File)

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Jordanian state security court on Monday sentenced two former officials to serve 15 years in prison over an alleged plot against the Western-allied monarchy involving the half-brother of King Abdullah II.

Bassem Awadallah, who has U.S. 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.

They are alleged to have conspired with Prince Hamzah, the king’s half-brother, and to have sought foreign assistance. They denied the charges, and Alaa al-Khasawneh, a lawyer for Sharif, said they would appeal the verdict. He declined to comment further.

Speaking before the verdict, Awadallah’s U.S. lawyer said his client alleged he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life.

They two men were swept up in a wave of arrests in April and Hamzah was placed under house arrest. The rare public rift at the highest levels of the monarchy sent jitters across the region. The palace drama also exposed deep-rooted economic and social challenges in the country, which has long been seen as a bastion of stability.

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. The royal family later said it had resolved the dispute with Hamzah, whose exact status is unknown but was never formally charged.

Abdullah is expected in Washington on July 19, when he will be the first Arab leader to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House. Jordan is a close U.S. ally in the Middle East and is seen as a key partner in eventually reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Lt. Col. Muwafaq al-Masaeed, a military judge, announced the verdict following a closed-door trial that consisted of just six hearings. The two were sentenced to 15 years for each of two felonies, but the judge said only one sentence would be imposed on them.

Reporters were only allowed to watch the proceedings on a video feed set up in a tent outside the heavily guarded courthouse. The two defendants, handcuffed and wearing blue prison uniforms, were escorted into the building by masked members of the security forces.

Before the verdict was announced, Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Awadallah’s U.S.-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 U.S. attorney for Massachusetts and former acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said any conviction would be appealed.

The court denied requests by Jordanian defense 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.

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.

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Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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