Cambodia jails Australian ‘spy’

SCAPEGOAT?:Human Rights Watch said James Ricketson was used as an excuse to crack down on opposition and his trial ‘exposed everything wrong’ with the judiciary


Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 6

An Australian filmmaker was yesterday sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia after being convicted of espionage in a case that Human Rights Watch slammed as a “ludicrous charade.”

James Ricketson has been held in jail since his arrest in June last year after he flew a drone over a rally held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved months later.

The party’s dissolution paved the way for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to win a clean sweep of all parliamentary seats in July’s national election, which Western democracies have said was flawed in the absence of a viable opposition.

After a six-day trial, Judge Seng Leang found 69-year-old Ricketson guilty on two charges of espionage.

“We have decided to convict [him] to six years in prison for espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defense,” he said.

The prosecution had accused Ricketson of working as a filmmaker in Cambodia for years as a cover for espionage.

“Unbelievable — which country am I spying for?” Ricketson asked out loud in court.

His lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, told reporters waiting outside the court that he plans to request a royal pardon from Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni.

Earlier this week, 14 opposition lawmakers and activists jailed before the election were released after sending apology letters to Hun Sen, who said he sent them on to the monarch.

Calling the result “devastating,” Ricketson’s son Jesse said he could not comment on whether an apology letter to Hun Sen was forthcoming to secure his father’s release.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson decried the court’s findings, saying that the trial “exposed everything that’s wrong with the Cambodian judicial system.”

Ricketson was used as a “scapegoat” by the Cambodian government to crack down on political opposition, Robertson said.

He also criticized what he said was inaction by the Australian government in “failing to publicly and consistently challenge this ludicrous charade and demand Ricketson’s immediate and unconditional release.”

In the months leading up to the election, Hun Sen’s government cracked down on opposition lawmakers, journalists and activists.

Ricketson has faced legal problems in the country in the past.

He was in 2014 handed a two-year suspended prison sentence for allegedly threatening to broadcast allegations that a church working in Cambodia had sold children.

Two years later, he was fined after a court found him guilty of defaming an anti-pedophile non-governmental organization by accusing the group of manipulating witnesses.