Two plead not guilty in trial linked to Jordan’s royal rift

AMMAN, JORDAN (AP) — A former top adviser to King Abdullah II and a relative of the monarch pleaded not guilty on Monday to sedition and incitement charges linked to an unprecedented public rift in Jordan’s royal family.

The defendants are accused of conspiring with a senior royal — Prince Hamzah, a half-brother of the king — to foment unrest against the monarch while soliciting foreign help.

The highly anticipated trial was held under a heavy cloak of secrecy, signalling that Jordan’s rulers are determined to maintain tight control over the sensitive affair. The defendants were sneaked into the state security court, apparently in SUVs with blacked-out windows, as dozens of journalists waited for hours near the main gate for any word about the proceedings inside.

At one point, blurry images of the two defendants wearing face masks and light blue scrubs — the uniform of detainees of the intelligence service — were leaked by the authorities. Former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah can be seen in a shaky video walking inside the court, led by guards. He is holding his arms behind his back, but it is not clear if he was cuffed. Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a distant cousin of the king, is shown walking next to a building, also with his hands behind his back. A black-clad officer with a helmet, mask and gloves holds bin Zaid by the neck with his right hand.

Hamzah, a central figure in the case, has not been charged. The king has said the royal family is dealing with him privately. Defence attorneys have said they plan to call Hamzah to the stand.

Since the drama erupted into the open in early April, with Hamzah being placed under house arrest, clashing narratives have swirled around the popular prince. He is either a popular champion of ordinary Jordanians suffering from economic mismanagement and corruption, or a disgruntled royal who never forgave Abdullah for taking away his title of crown prince in 2004.

The indictment alleges Hamzah was driven by personal ambition and determined to become king. It said the prince and the two defendants conspired to stir discontent.

The indictment also alleges 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”.

Former royal adviser Bassem Awadallah leaves a state security court in a vehicle after the first session of his trial in Amman. PHOTO: AP