Jordanians Seek Retrial for Parliamentarians

JORDANIAN politicians and citizens shocked by the military's sentencing of two members of parliament for treason are calling for a retrial.

Leith Shbeilat and Sheikh Yacoub Qarash, independent, Islamist deputies of the National Assembly, were sentenced to 20 years at hard labor for possessing illegal weapons and plotting to overthrow the regime.

Two merchants were also found guilty and handed 10-year sentences in the case. All four were said to have belonged to an illegal armed group aiming to topple the monarchy and replace it with an Islamic state.

Parliament members - including Jordan's leading opposition group, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood - and other political organizations have started to push for a retrial, which can be ordered by the prime minister.

"The basis for justice was not provided for the deputies and there is a conviction that there was not enough evidence against them," a conservative, independent deputy said on condition of anonymity. "We, as parliamentarians, are demanding a retrial," said the deputy, who has served in the Cabinet.

Some political observers believe that Mr. Shbeilat's role in parliamentary investigations of official corruption and his criticism of security excesses were linked to his indictment.

The verdict, handed down by the country's State Security Court, cannot be appealed, although the prime minister must now ratify the verdict, commute the sentences, or order a retrial. Amnesty International, the human rights organization, has called for the deputies' and merchants' "right of appeal to be introduced without further delay."

Although the two politicians pleaded not guilty to all the charges, the two merchants confessed they had belonged to the illegal group, saying they intended to "fight against the Israeli occupation authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

But a pan-Arab political activist and columnist says the trial is a "clear message to those who want to liberate Palestine through armed struggle to forget about it." A government official who refused to be identified says "Jordan's borders will not be used to fight against Israel, especially now with the Middle East peace process" under way in Washington.

The tense political atmosphere resulting from the trial has frightened people from speaking out, especially in light of the role played by the General Intelligence Department (GID) in the case.

The court allowed wiretapped telephone conversations ordered by a GID officer to be used as evidence and witnesses being detained by the GID to testify, escalating concerns that the security apparatus is making a comeback after some of its authority was clipped in the aftermath of the 1989 parliamentary elections.

"There is a kind of pulling and pushing between the democratic institutions and the security apparatus on which way the country should go," says the conservative, independent deputy. King Hussein has not commented on the trial, but hopes are widespread that he will pardon the deputies.

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