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Cambodian Court Sentences Australian Filmmaker to Six Years in Prison For ‘Espionage’

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Photo: upr8 (Pixabay).

A court in Cambodia sentenced Australian filmmaker James Ricketson to six years in prison for espionage Friday, prompting rights groups to slam the verdict as representative of a judicial system widely seen as beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Ricketson, 69, was arrested in June last year after flying a drone over a rally by the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November over an alleged plot to overthrow the government, clearing the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to sweep all 125 parliamentary seats up for grabs in a general election last month.

Judge Seng Leang of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Ricketson guilty on two charges of espionage and ordered him to spend six years in jail, without providing details about which country he had been convicted of spying for. The filmmaker had faced up to 10 years in prison for the charges.

“We have decided to convict to six years in prison for espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defense,” the judge said at the conclusion of the six-day trial.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Ricketson’s lawyer Kong Sam Onn told RFA’s Khmer Service there was “little evidence” presented by prosecutors at his client’s trial.

“The court has failed to prove that my client is a spy or that he has collected any information that harms national defense,” he said.

Kong Sam Onn expressed hope that Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni might grant Ricketson a royal pardon, noting that his work had benefitted the country’s poor. His client’s health has suffered in detention, he added.

Hun Sen, who secured another five-year term to add to his 33 years in office after official results of the July 29 election were announced on Aug. 15, has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics in the lead up to ballots, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.

Full story:

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2018, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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