Jordan Court Sentences Ex-royal Court Chief to 15 Years in Alleged Plot to Destabilize Monarchy

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Outside the Amman court where the trial of Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid is taking place.
Outside the Amman court where the trial of Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid is taking place.Credit: Raad Adayleh / AP

A Jordanian court on Monday sentenced a former royal confidant, Bassem Awadallah, alongside a minor royal to 15 years in jail on charges of attempting to destabilize the monarchy.

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 former heir to the throne Prince Hamzah as an alternative to the king.

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Bassem Awadallah, a U.S. citizen and former top aide to the king, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were arrested in April over an alleged plot against the kingdom involving Prince Hamzah, the king's half-brother and a former crown prince.

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

Awadallah's U.S. lawyer says he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life.

The three 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.

Dr. Bassem Awadallah, then director of the Office of King Abdullah II of Jordan, in Amman in 2008.Credit: Nader Daoud / AP

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty to sedition and incitement charges, which carry lengthy prison terms.

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.

Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Awadallah's U.S.-based family, told The Associated Press that the closed-door trial, which consisted of just six hearings, “has been completely unfair."

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

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.

Sullivan, a former U.S. 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.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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