AMMAN, Jordan — In an unprecedented move, Jordan's new justice minister on Monday joined dozens of protesters demanding the early release of a Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli school girls in 1997.

Minister Hussein Mjali previously served as the defense lawyer of army Corp. Ahmed Daqamseh who shot dead the girls during an outing near Jordan's border with Israel.

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Monday's protest outside Mjali's office was organized by Daqamseh's family. Mjali joined the protesters, saying he was participating in his capacity as the soldier's former lawyer. "I'm committed to be here with you as his lawyer," Mjali told the cheering group.

The corporal was sentenced to life in prison, which translates into a 25-year sentence in Jordan. It's unlikely he will win early release.

Mjali was appointed in a government shakeup last week in the wake of protests inspired by the Egyptian uprising. The protests ushered in a broad-based Cabinet pledging greater democratic freedoms, including the rights of assembly and speech.

Mjali said Monday he joined the Cabinet because he wants see greater freedom of speech in Jordan.

It was not immediately clear if his appearance at Monday's protest will have repercussions.

A government spokesman said the Cabinet didn't discuss the issue. "It's apparently the minister's own initiative and he has the right to express himself," added the spokesman, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Embassy officials in Jerusalem were not immediately available for comment.

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