Lawyer: Jordan court to rule Monday in royal sedition case

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s state security court is to issue its verdict in a high-profile sedition case against a former senior official and a member of the royal family on Monday, just three weeks after the trial began.

The quick pace of the trial, its closed sessions and the court’s refusal to accept testimony from key witnesses have given the defense little reason for optimism. Defense lawyers have already pledged to appeal any conviction.

Labib Kamhawi, an independent analyst and government critic, called the trial a “cosmetic show” that lacked sufficient debate or evidence.

“I don’t see any point in trying to emphasize the logic of justice in a case that lacks actually the acceptable boundaries of a fair trial in international standards,” he said.

Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah are accused of conspiring with a senior member of the royal family, Prince Hamzah, to foment unrest against King Abdullah II while soliciting foreign help.

Hamzah, a former crown prince and half-brother of the king, is not facing charges. The king has said the royal family is handling the matter privately, with Hamzah placed under house arrest in early April. He has been seen in public just once since then.

But he is the central figure in the case, with the indictment alleging Hamzah conspired with the two defendants “to achieve his personal ambition” of becoming king.

The unprecedented public palace drama has broken taboos in Jordan and sent jitters through foreign capitals, with Western powers rallying behind Abdullah, an indispensable ally in an unstable region. It also exposed rivalries in Jordan’s traditionally discrete Hashemite dynasty and sparked rare public criticism of the king.

Hamzah enjoys wide public popularity, and the defendants are the most senior establishment figures to appear before the security court. Bin Zaid is a distant cousin of the king, while Awadallah is a former top royal adviser.

The trial has been closed to the media and lasted just six sessions. The court rejected defense lawyers’ request to bring Prince Hamzah and top royal and political figures to testify.

Defense lawyer Alaa al-Khasawneh said he submitted a 23-page written plea of innocence to the court.

Al-Khasawneh said he asked that the court find the defendants not guilty of charges of sedition and of opposing the regime. He declined to say whether he thought the trial is fair or not, saying he would wait for the verdict, scheduled for Monday. But he said he would appeal any conviction.

Hamzah’s popularity stems from ties he has nurtured with Jordan’s tribes, the bedrock of Hashemite rule. Atef Majali, a tribal leader in the town of Karak, has said he and other sheikhs have met with the prince more than a dozen times over the years, but denied the king was criticized at these events.

The indictment alleged that Hamzah and the two defendants were working on social media messages the prince was to post, with the aim of “inciting some groups in society against the ruling system and state agencies.”

Hamzah has denied sedition claims, saying he is being punished for calling out high-level corruption and mismanagement.

On April 3, the day he was placed under house arrest, more than a dozen tribal and public figures were arrested, including his chief aide. Only Awadallah and bin Zaid remain in detention.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem.

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