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UN concerned that a former Jordanian official was tortured during his interrogation

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News briefing:

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: January 3, 2021

UN experts have expressed their grave concerns about allegations that a former Jordanian official, Basem Awadallah, was tortured and ill-treated to coerce him to sign self-incriminating confessions, which were used as evidence in judicial proceedings against him. Awadallah was convicted in a trial that did not uphold due process.

Torture and coercion to sign: 

The experts explained in a memorandum sent to the Jordanian government that Awadallah, who served as Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and Minister of Finance in 2005, director of King Abdullah II’s office in 2006, and head of the Royal Hashemite Court from 2007 to 2008. On April 3, 2021 Awadallah among other 20 officials were arrested in relation to a security threat following the discovery of “a complex and far-reaching plot that included at least one other Jordanian royal as well as tribal leaders and members of the country’s political and security establishment.”

The experts stated that since his arrest and throughout the interrogations, Awadallah was denied access to a lawyer, and was slapped, beaten, kicked, threatened with sodomy, and electric shocks, in addition to causing harm to his family if he refused to cooperate, forcing him to sign two written confessions that were used as evidence of conviction against him, on 14 and 22 April respectively, without being allowed to read them or inform him of their content.

The experts added that on June 13, 2021, Awadallah, along with another Jordanian official, was reportedly charged with the felony of incitement to oppose the political regime in the Kingdom. On June 15, 2021, a snapshot of an alleged confession signed by Awadallah was circulated on social media platforms, in which he appears to have confessed to conspiring with a member of the royal family against the king. 

Experts pointed out that Awadallah was held for nearly 100 days without the ability to speak with his family or meet with his lawyer in private, and prosecutors also refused representatives of the US embassy to meet with him in private, and he was only allowed to make a five-minute phone call with his family on July 11, for the first time, over a loudspeaker, in the presence of an interpreter and two prosecutors.

Unfair trial conditions: 

As for the circumstances of his trial, the experts said that Awadallah’s trial took place in a secret session by the State Security Court, a military court whose judges are appointed by the prime minister. And that during his trial, he was not allowed to defend himself, his lawyer’s request to call 25 defense witnesses was denied, and the prosecutors viewed only the purported transcripts of the recorded conversations of the alleged conspirators and refused to provide the audio files. After six hearings, within a period of only three weeks, on July 12, 2021, the State Security Court convicted Awadallah of the various charges against him, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. His lawyer filed an appeal on 8 August, and on 9 September 2021, the Court of Cassation upheld the State Security Court ruling.

Arbitrary detention and allegations of torture: 

The experts expressed their deep concern about allegations of physical and psychological acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed against Awadallah to compel him to sign confessions of guilt, and that the court used these confessions as evidence of indictment. In the event these allegations are confirmed, they would amount to serious violations of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

The experts also expressed their fears that Awadallah, a civilian, was tried before a special military court, and was held incommunicado for 3 months without contacting his family and lawyer – during which he was interrogated – and allegedly tortured; that he was denied the possibility of effectively preparing his defence. His contacts with his lawyer were not confidential, which makes his detention arbitrary.

  UN demands from Jordan: 

The experts called on the Jordanian government to provide detailed information on criminal procedures and terrorism-related charges against Awadallah, and explain how it fully complies with due process standards enshrined by international law, and observant of fundamental safeguards, including unrestrained and confidential access to a lawyer of his own choice and to an independent medical doctor, as well as regular contact with his family.

The experts also called on Jordan to provide detailed information about the place and conditions of detention and treatment of Awadallah, and to explain why the authorities did not provide him with adequate medical care during that period, including denying him confidential access to his lawyer during his trial, and denying him the ability to properly prepare his defence.

The experts also requested clarification of under whose authority Mr. Awadallah was detained during his preliminary phase of detention, and which was the authority in charge of his interrogation.

The experts also requested the Jordanian government to provide detailed information about the measures – legal, institutional, procedural – that existed in the Jordanian judicial system to protect persons undergoing investigation in the custody of police, military or intelligence authorities, against abuse of power, and in particular the risk of torture or ill-treatment, and to explain how these measures are respected, enforced and their implementation monitored.

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