King Abdullah's former confidant pleads not guilty in Jordan sedition case

Bassem Awadallah is accused of sedition in a case that underscores Jordan’s delicate socio-political balances

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A former confidant of Jordan’s King Abdullah faced a secret trial on Monday charged with sedition, in one of the most sensitive cases since the monarch took power 22 years ago.

Authorities accuse Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a distant cousin of the king, of co-ordinating with Prince Hamzah Bin Hussein to destabilise the kingdom.

Prince Hamzah is the king's half brother.

Authorities did not give details, but the charges refer to a rumoured attempted coup d'etat in April.

Journalists were denied entry to Mr Awadallah's hearing on sedition charges, presided over by a military judge. The court complex is near a military airport in the Marka district on the outskirts of Amman.

Mr Awadallah's lawyer said both defendants pleaded not guilty.
He said defence lawyers argued that the court did not have the jurisdiction to look into the case, but the judge rejected their argument.

State television said, in the first session, authorities would call six witnesses against Mr Awadallah, 57, who was the architect of Jordan's economic liberalisation in the 1990s.

TV broadcastss showed Mr Awadallah wearing a blue prison suit and being led into the court by security personnel in combat gear.

Until his arrest in April, Mr Awadallah was one of few figures in Jordan with star power on the regional scene and internationally.

He fell out with the king in a public episode that has shaken the country and led to rumours of a coup attempt.

The case revealed some of the complex dynamics that underpin the political system in Jordan, particularly ties between the ruler and tribes who have traditionally received wide-ranging state benefits.

The royal rift first emerged when King Abdullah removed Prince Hamzah, from his role as crown prince in 2004.

Authorities accuse Mr Awadallah and Mr bin Zaid of co-ordinating with Prince Hamzah to destabilise the kingdom. They did not give details.

The prince is not on trial. He has not been seen in public since he signed a document shortly after the incident affirming his allegiance to the king.

State media said the trial will be secret and no one is being allowed into the court except the two defendants and their legal representatives.

Another 16 men whom the authorities said were associates of Prince Hamzah were also arrested in April. They were released three weeks later and no charges were brought against them.

They were all members of tribes, which underpin the security forces and are largely employed in the government.

In April Jordan's army chief, Maj Gen Yousef Huneiti was heard telling Prince Hamzah in a leaked tape to cease contact with the tribes.

The prince, witnesses said, met tribes in Al Salt after seven coronavirus patients died at the city's government hospital in March because of an oxygen shortage.

The deaths sparked protests across Jordan demanding the resignation of the government.

The authorities cracked down on the protests, arresting hundreds of people.

According to a court document cited by official media, Mr Awadallah sent a message to Sharif Hasan after the Al Salt incident, saying: "It is the time of H.”

Mr Afif said the court’s session was adjourned until Tuesday.