Prince Hamzah to stand as witness in 'sedition' trial

Jordan's Prince Hamzah to be called to the witness stand in 'sedition' trial
4 min read
16 June, 2021
A lawyer for one of the defendants in next week's 'sedition' trial says he will call Prince Hamzah bin Hussein to the witness stand.
A court appearance could be the first time the public hears Prince Hamzah's version of events [Getty]

The Jordanian former crown prince at centre of an alleged coup plot will be requested as a witness to next week's trial, a lawyer of one of the trial's two defendants told The New Arab late on Tuesday.

If Prince Hamzah bin Hussein takes the witness stand next week, it will be the first time he will be heard from since he was placed under house arrest in early April.

It will also be a chance for the prince to give his own version of events, a potentially worrisome development for the government, which has worked hard to control the narrative around the most serious political upheaval in the country since the Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Alaa Khasawneh, lawyer for Sharif Bin Zaid, said that he is yet to put in the formal request for Prince Hamzah as a witness but would do so soon.

When asked whether or not he believed the government would allow the prince to take the witness stand, he asserted that it was his right to do so as "the indictment discussed facts attributed to Prince Hamzah and Sharif, so I must confirm from the prince as a witness whether the facts are true or not". He added that if they refused his request, there were "other ways" he would try to secure him as a witness.

The New Arab reached out to the Royal Hashemite Court for a comment, but they declined to comment on the case.

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The general prosecutor in Amman announced on June 13 that the trial of both Bassem Awadallah - the former head of the royal court - and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid - a member of the Jordanian royal family and king's former envoy to Saudi Arabia- will begin the following week.

Awadallah faces two charges, which are seeking to negatively affect the stability of the government and posing a danger to social stability. Bin Zaid faces the prior two charges and two additional offences related to drug use.

According to Khasawneh, when authorities searched Bin Zaid's house they found a small amount of marijuana that he intended to smoke. "He didn’t realize that this was illegal in Jordan as it's legal in US and Europe," Khasawneh explained.

The general prosecutor will rely on the results of its investigations for its court case, in addition to two witnesses who were employees in Awadallah’s house, Khasawneh said.

Awadallah's lawyer, a former judge of Jordan's military court named Mohamed Afif, has yet to respond to a request for comments.

Almost immediately after the general prosecutor announced the court proceedings, the full text of the indictment was leaked and published by media outlets. Two days later, an April confession by Awadallah was leaked and published as well.

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Despite not being on trial, Prince Hamzah's role was front and centre as the leader of the so-called "seditious plot" in both the indictment and the confession. The indictment starts by alleging Prince Hamzah's decade-long ambition to assume the throne "outside of the line of succession and constitution", according to the document, and details of deliberate planning between Prince Hamzah and the two defendants.

The confession by Awadallah describes how Prince Hamzah had been visiting his home with Bin Zaid for about a year, and how the prince was openly bitter about being removed as the crown prince. The document also says that Prince Hamzah inquired if Awadallah could secure backing from foreign powers and that the prince told him he had conducted meetings with tribes to gain their loyalty.

The leaking of the documents was a sharp departure from previous coverage of the Prince Hamzah affair in local media outlets. At first the government forbade local media from reporting on the issue, but then relented and lifted the gag order. Still, local media has not strayed from the official line on the issue.

The existing narrative of what exactly happened during the "seditious plot" has emerged in foreign media outlets through a series of leaks from Jordanian intelligence officers.

Perhaps the most comprehensive retelling of events was published in the Guardian, where Jordanian intelligence showed reporters evidence of alleged collusion between the two defendants and Prince Hamzah. They detailed a plot to sow discontent among Jordanians and take advantage of the US and Saudi Arabia’s frustration with King Abdullah for rejecting the so-called Deal of the Century.

The leaked indictment and confession thus represent the first time the Jordanian public gets to clearly see the details behind the "seditious plot" in their own language, and the first time that the Jordanian government lays all of its cards on the table.

The government faces a deeply skeptical public, many of whom see Prince Hamzah as a likeable opposition figure against an ineffective and corrupt government.