Jordan's military court on Sunday sentenced two Islamist lawmakers to prison terms of 1 1/2 years and 2 years in jail for instigating sectarian strife by praising an al-Qaida in Iraq leader at his wake.
Abu Fares was sentenced to 2 years in jail and Abu Sukkar to 1 1/2 years for their "provocative" remarks about Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed by U.S. forces June 7.
"The court is convinced by the evidence implicating the two ... defendants — Mohammed Abu Fares and Ali Abu Sukkar," said the presiding judge, whose name was withheld upon orders by the military court.
But the court acquitted a third defendant, Jaafar al-Hourani, for lack of evidence. It said the legislator did not make any provocative statements like the other two defendants and ruled that he must be released immediately.
Lawyer Fathi Abu Nassar said he planned to appeal the guilty verdicts.
The verdict "is imbalanced and carries political ramifications — simply to prevent both outspoken lawmakers, who are critics of government policies, from contesting next year's parliamentary elections," he said.
During the 10 minute hearing, the three lawmakers stood silently outside the dock, their hands and feet free of shackles — a special treatment, which is not usually accorded to other prisoners.
After the verdict was read out, Abu Fares nodded his head in dismay as he said: "May God help us all."
The defendants provoked widespread domestic indignation when they paid their condolences at the family home of al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq on June 7.
'Provocative' remarks cited
In a written verdict distributed on the press, the court cited "provocative" remarks the legislators made during and after the terrorist leader's wake.
It said Abu Fares described al-Zarqawi as a "martyr," while Abu Sukkar lauded his "martyrdom" and rebuked the presence of the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq.
"The words went way beyond the ethics of condolences at a wake," the document said.
The three defendants pleaded innocent at the start of the trial in July to charges that they harmed national unity by "instigating sectarian strife and fueling national discord."
The al-Qaida in Iraq leader had masterminded attacks on Amman hotels last November in which three suicide bombers killed 60 people.
During the trial, the court heard Abu Fares denying that he called al-Zarqawi a "martyr," although prosecution evidence included a video tape showing the lawmaker using that description.
The legislators also argued that their visit to al-Zarqawi's home was "not a crime" and that the wake was "not outlawed" by the government.
A fourth legislator, Ibrahim al-Mashwakhi, was detained for visiting the al-Zarqawi home in Zarqa, northeast of Amman, on June 11. But Jordan's chief military prosecutor released him earlier this month, saying "his action didn't constitute a crime."
The four legislators belong to the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm. The Brotherhood has rejected Abu Fares' comments and reiterated that it condemns the Amman hotel blasts of Nov. 9.