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Verdict Expected in Trial Of Jordanian Politicians

By Sana AtiyehSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 9, 1992


POLITICIANS in Jordan are anxiously awaiting tomorrow's verdict in a controversial trial of two members of parliament charged with plotting to overthrow the regime. The lawmakers could face the death penalty if found guilty.

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Political activists and elected officials say that regardless of the outcome, the trial of the parliamentarians, known here as deputies, has already affected the three-year-old democratization process in the kingdom.

Since many politicians believe that political motives are behind the trial, analysts say the trial carries a message for political institutions and activists not to overstep certain limits in opposing the establishment.

Deputies Leith Shbeilat and Sheikh Yacoub Qarash, along with two merchants, were arrested in August for allegedly establishing the Shabab al-Nafir al-Islami (Vanguards of Islamic Youth) in order to overthrow the monarchy and replace it with an Islamic state.

Mr. Shbeilat is charged with illegally receiving funds from outside Jordan, mainly Iran and the Iranian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command.

The two merchants have pleaded guilty to possession of weapons and explosives, but insist that their aim was to "work against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and not inside Jordan." The deputies pleaded not guilty with regard to involvement in the Nafir group.

Putting Shbeilat - an outspoken critic of government corruption and security-force excesses - on trial has generated an outcry from political activists in the capital and from people in the southern part of Jordan, especially Shbeilat's hometown of Tafileh. The Tafilis have requested King Hussein's intervention in the case, as have more than 50 deputies and political activists representing a variety of political backgrounds.

But the king has kept silent about the issue. He made no mention of the case in a major address to the nation on Thursday.

The deputies and merchants are being tried by a panel of three military judges of Jordan's State Security Court, because the charges concern national security. It is within the king's constitutional powers to issue an amnesty after the court rules. The prime minister must either endorse or reduce the court's sentences, but they cannot be appealed.

The government has also refused comment on the trial. "All issues related to the case are within the jurisdiction of the State Security Court and any questioning or discussion of the court's proceedings will be an insult to justice and tantamount to an attempt to influence the court's decision," Justice Minister Yousef Mbaideen said late last month.

The deputies' defense lawyers withdrew from the case Oct. 18 after they were called to court for an unscheduled closed-door hearing, known here as the "secret session," where a witness testified that he had delivered 300,000 deutsche marks ($189,700) from the Iranian leadership to Shbeilat last April.

The lawyers complained that the court did not permit them to look at the witness's passport, which the prosecution said was Syrian, and that they could not see his face properly. Witnesses in these cases are directed to keep their eyes on the judge as they respond to cross-examination, but defense lawyers said that the witness's head scarf, or kaffiyeh, obscured his face.