A dual US-Jordanian citizen convicted on sedition charges in Jordan is calling on the US government to demand his return to the United States and launching a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.
Bassem Awadallah, a dual US-Jordanian citizen, was arrested in April 2021 and sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of incitement against the state and sowing sedition in connection to an effort Jordanian authorities allege was led by Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein to “destabilize” the kingdom. Representatives for Awadallah called the charges “fabricated,” and Hamzah has denied the allegations.
Awadallah, a former Jordan finance minister, is launching a hunger strike to call attention to his “unjust imprisonment” and urging both Biden administration officials and Republican lawmakers in Congress to advocate his release, his US lawyer Michael Sullivan said in a statement released by representatives for Awadallah.
“The U.S. Government should make it clear to King Abdullah and his government that continued support depends on Jordan’s commitment to human rights especially when it concerns the rights of U.S. citizens,” Sullivan said.
“It is our hope that the new Republican leadership of the House of Representatives will seek answers from the Biden Administration on what steps are being taken to secure Bassem’s release,” he added.
Awadallah is also a former adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. CNN has previously reported that shortly after his arrest, Saudi Arabia sent a delegation to Jordan headed by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Both the Saudi and Jordanian governments have denied that the meeting was related to Awadallah’s arrest.
The statement from Awadallah’s representatives said he has been subjected to “physical, psychological and emotional torture” while detained in Jordan and has spent his entire 22-month detention in solitary confinement. A State Department report from 2020 said international and local organizations have reported incidents of torture in detention centers in Jordan.
Jordan’s Public Safety Public Security Directorate, Rehabilitation and Correction Centers Department released a statement on Monday denying that Awadallah had been “mistreated in any way.”
“Bassem Awadallah is a Jordanian citizen and a former Jordanian official who was tried in Jordan and found guilty of incitement against the political regime and engaging in actions that would threaten the safety and security of society and create sedition,” the statement said.
“Mr. Awadallah was guaranteed due process, in accordance with Jordanian laws and regulations. He has not been mistreated in any way, and allegations of torture of any kind are patently false. Mr. Awadallah’s statements to the court during his trial were given voluntarily with no coercion,” it went on to say.
“Allegations that Mr. Awadallah has been on hunger strike for three days are inaccurate, as he has been eating the meals provided to him over the past three days. He had breakfast and lunch on Sunday, February 12th, and has been allowed to bring in additional food supplements. On the morning of Monday, February 13th, Mr. Awadallah refused his meals, but up until the evening of February 13th, he had not submitted a written statement to prison authorities declaring his intent to go on hunger strike, as required by Jordanian law and procedures,” it added.
A State Department spokesperson said the US is following the situation.
“We are closely tracking reports of Bassem Awadallah’s hunger strike. One of the most important priorities of the Department of State and US embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to US citizens incarcerated or detained abroad, and we take allegations of mistreatment seriously. We always raise the importance of humane treatment directly with the host government. Further, the Embassy has visited Mr. Awadallah at least monthly since April 12, 2021. The last visit was yesterday, February 12, 2023, and we continue to monitor his situation closely. Senior State Department officials, including US Embassy personnel, remain in contact with the family of Mr. Awadallah,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Awadallah’s hunger strike comes weeks after Siamak Namazi, an American wrongfully detained in Iran, went on a seven-day hunger strike in an attempt to urge President Joe Biden to push for his release. Namazi has been detained in Iran since 2015. During his hunger strike, a US National Security Council spokesperson said the administration remained “committed to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi and we are working tirelessly to bring him home along with all US citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.”
While both are dual US nationals, the cases of Namazi and Awadallah are very different. Awadallah – a former Jordanian finance minister and former chief of the royal court – was convicted for his role in an alleged conspiracy against key US ally King Abdullah II.
Namazi’s detention, however, is widely seen as part of a long-running strategy of using foreign and dual nationals as political pawns in Tehran’s negotiations with the US and other Western governments.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Jomana Karadsheh and Jassar Al-Tahat contributed to this report.