Middle East

Two Jordanians Sentenced to Prison in Plot Against Monarchy

After a trial rife with accusations of betrayal within Jordan’s royal family and interference by Saudi Arabia, a Jordanian court on Monday sentenced King Abdullah II’s former adviser and a cousin of the monarch to 15 years in prison for trying to destabilize the kingdom.

Jordan’s state news agency said Bassem Awadallah, a former royal court chief in Jordan who became an adviser to the Saudi crown prince, and the king’s cousin Sharif Hassan bin Zeid were found guilty of sedition.

The two were arrested in April in a case involving King Abdullah’s younger brother, Prince Hamzah, that sent shock waves through the kingdom and raised alarm in the United States, which considers Jordan one of its closest security and intelligence allies in the Middle East.

The trial began in June in a closed security court on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan’s capital. Prince Hamzah, the son of King Hussein and his fourth and last wife, the American-born Queen Noor, has publicly pledged loyalty to King Abdullah and will not face trial. He was placed under house arrest in April and his movements and communications remain restricted.

Mr. Awadallah and Sharif Hassan were accused of helping to organize a plot by Prince Hamzah to fuel dissent in the kingdom against his brother’s reign.

Lt. Col. Muwafaq al-Masaeed, a military judge, announced the verdict following a closed-door trial. A higher court has 30 days to confirm or overturn the verdict.

Both men had pleaded not guilty. Jordanian lawyers for the two said they would appeal and that they did not consider the verdict a conviction until it had been ratified by the higher court.

During the three-week trial, the court refused to allow the defense teams to call witnesses, including Prince Hamzah. Sharif Hassan, a businessman, was sentenced to a further year in prison for drug possession.

“As is often the case in such trials, I doubt the convicted will actually serve close to the full sentence,” said Robert Richer, a former C.I.A. chief for Middle East operations.

The case was based largely on intercepted messages between Prince Hamzah, Mr. Awadallah and Sharif Hassan that discussed trying to foment protests among tribal leaders angry over corruption and government policies that have cut into their livelihoods. According to prosecutors, the aim was to destabilize the kingdom to give Prince Hamzah more power.

There is also a significant Saudi connection. Mr. Awadallah is an American and Jordanian citizen who was also granted Saudi citizenship after becoming close to leaders in Saudi Arabia. Sent as Jordan’s envoy to the kingdom, he later became an economic adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

After Mr. Awadallah’s arrest, senior officials including the Saudi head of intelligence rushed to Jordan to press the kingdom to release him. Jordan, a resource-poor country that is reliant on foreign aid, was able to resist after assurances of support from the White House, according to Bruce Riedel, a former senior intelligence officer.

Jordanian authorities initially declared a gag order on the arrests and then leaked information about the charges to pro-government publications.

“If something happens to me in Jordan would the Saudi officials come to my help?’ the charge sheet quoted Prince Hamzah as asking Mr. Awadallah.

Mr. Awadahllah’s family originally comes from the East Jerusalem suburb of Silwan, where Israeli forces have been carrying out demolitions of Palestinian homes. After emigrating to the United States, his father worked as a driver for a limousine firm catering to Arab clients, according to several Jordanians who know the family.

Educated at Georgetown University and the London School of Economics, Mr. Awadallah became Jordan’s finance minister, engineering economic measures mandated by the kingdom’s international lenders that have been wildly unpopular with Jordanians. Public ire against Mr. Awadallah was fueled by his building of a palatial home that has become an Amman landmark.

Mr. Awadallah’s family in the United States issued a statement through a communications firm saying that he had been beaten and tortured with electric cables while in detention in Jordan. It called on the United States to “protect the rights and civil liberties of its citizens from unjust, inhuman treatment by other governments, particularly those that receive U.S. aid and military support.”

Mr. Awadallah’s Jordanian lawyer, Mohamed Afif, said he was not in a position to comment on the accusations of torture. Jordanian officials deny he was mistreated. Sharif Hassan’s lawyer, Ala Khasawneh, said his own client was in good health.

The State Department’s 2020 human rights report on Jordan noted that international and local human rights organizations had reported incidents of torture in detention centers.

Mr. Richer said U.S. consular staff members in Jordan had met with Mr. Awadallah five times in the last three months.

“This was a high-profile case with extensive foreign interest,” said Mr. Richer, a former C.I.A. station chief in Amman. “Jordan knew all eyes were on the trial and based on U.S. embassy access and that interest, treated those convicted with kid gloves.”

Mr. Awadallah’s lawyer in the United States, Michael J. Sullivan, in a statement after the verdict, described his client’s treatment as beatings and psychological torture and said he had been kept in solitary confinement for the past three months.

He said Mr. Awadallah was subjected to physical abuse, deprivations and threats “to compel him to sign blank papers that were then fabricated into ‘evidence’ of his confession.”

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