Two leading Islamist deputies were jailed in Jordan yesterday after they were found guilty of sowing national discord by visiting the family of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, after his death.
The verdict was announced after a two-week military trial in which state security prosecutors said they "stirred internal strife and national divisions" by paying their respects to the family of Jordanian-born Zarqawi after he was killed in a US air strike in June.
Sheikh Mohammad Abu Faris received a two-year sentence for allegedly describing Zarqawi as a "martyr" and Ali Abu Sukr, a prominent rights campaigner, was given a one-and-half year jail term while a third deputy, Jaafar Hourani, was acquitted.
They had denied the charges and said their visit was in line with Muslim tradition and did not mean they supported indiscriminate killings of civilians.
It was not immediately clear why Abu Fares and Abu Suqqar received a lesser term, but the court said their sentences would run from the day they were arrested, June 12, a day after their visit.
The three deputies are senior members of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Lawyers accused officials of rushing the trial through a court they considered unconstitutional during a parliamentary recess, while the accused had no parliamentary immunity.
After the verdict, delivered during a brief hearing, the trio again said they were innocent and their lawyers said they will appeal.
"God is my judge," Abu Fares said as he was led from the court.
"May this [verdict] be for the sake of Allah," Abu Suqqar said.
The trial of the popular deputies angered many ordinary Jordanians who widely sympathized with Zarqawi as a Muslim militant fighting occupying US troops.
US based rights group Human Rights Watch has strongly criticized their arrest, saying expressing condolences "to the family of a dead man, however murderous he might be, was not a crime and was not grounds for prosecution".
It said the case violated freedom of speech.
The government said that the visit was an affront to the feelings of most Jordanians, including relatives of 60 people killed in three hotel bombings in the capital Amman last November that Zarqawi claimed to have ordered.
The IAF accused the government of using the visit as a pretext to step up a campaign to curb the organization's growing influence.