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Jordan: Ex-royal court chief pleads not guilty to destabilising monarchy

Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid deny conspiring with Prince Hamzah to stir unrest against King Abdullah, as court case kicks off
Jordanian security forces lead former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah inside the military court in Amman to face charges of sedition against the monarchy on 21 June 2021 (social media)

Bassem Awadallah, a former top adviser to Jordan’s king, and low-ranking royal Sharif Hassan bin Zaid pleaded not guilty to charges of sedition and incitement against the monarchy in a trial that opened on Monday, one of their lawyers said. 

Awadallah, a former finance minister and once head of the royal court, and Sharif Hassan are accused of conspiring with King Abdullah’s half-brother and former heir to the throne, Prince Hamzah, to instigate dissent against the monarch alongside foreign parties. Prosecutors referred their case to a military court.  

Awadallah’s lawyer Mohammed Afif said the court heard the testimonies of witnesses presented by the prosecution, and the trial will resume on Tuesday.

The trial was closed to the media, but a video circulating online showed a handcuffed Awadallah in a prisoner’s uniform being led inside the State Security Court.

Hamzah, who was placed under house arrest over his alleged role in the plot, has accused the country’s leaders of corruption, incompetence and harassment. The prince has denied any wrongdoing and proceedings against him were later dropped after he pledged allegiance to King Abdullah. 

However, he remains a central figure in the trial. It remains unclear if defence lawyers will call him to the stand. 

Sharif Hassan’s lawyer told CNN Arabic on Friday that the indictment included facts related to the exchange of text messages between him, Awadallah and Prince Hamzah, but did not include the messages themselves.

The court charged Awadallah and Sharif Hassan with the felony of “inciting opposition to the political regime in the kingdom jointly”, and the felony of “carrying out acts that endanger the safety and security of society, and causing sedition jointly".

The indictment, published by media close to the state, claims that Hamzah, driven by personal ambitions, and the defendants had conspired to destabilise the kingdom.

Leaked confessions

Local media last week published alleged confessions by Awadallah in documents leaked to the press, purportedly revealing details of meetings that took place last year that he held with Prince Hamzah and were arranged by Sharif Hassan.

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"Sharif Hassan informed me that Prince Hamzah is dissatisfied with the internal situation, and he wants to talk to me about this, and get advice from me, because I was a senior official in the royal court, and I am currently working in Saudi Arabia, and he is close to officials there," the document, which were part of a State Security Court report, quoted Awadallah as saying. 

Awadallah had also served as King Abdullah’s envoy to Saudi Arabia and has close links to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Middle East Eye previously revealed that he had been arrested in connection to the alleged plot after intelligence services intercepted voice and text messages between him and the Saudi crown prince, in which they discussed how to destabilise King Abdullah's rule.

Awadallah and Sharif Hassan are the only two figures who remain in detention after the arrests that targeted 16 suspects over their alleged attempts to “destabilise” the kingdom in April.