PHNOM PENH – The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia (OPCC) is concerned about the conviction of an Australian filmmaker and humanitarian who was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage on August 31.
James Ricketson, 69, was first arrested for flying a drone above a rally of a now-dissolved opposition party in June 2017. He spent the last 14 months in pre-trial detention at Phnom Penh’s overcrowded Prey Sar prison.
Cambodian prosecutors alleged that Ricketson had collected information detrimental to the country’s national security. But observers of the trial say prosecutors gave more attention to Ricketson’s personal emails, retrieved by the authorities after his arrest, that were allegedly critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In July, Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won a general election that was considered “illegitimate” by many in the international community, after the country’s only viable opposition party was forcibly dissolved last year. The CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly at July’s election.
On August 31, a Cambodian court sentenced Ricketson to six years in prison “for espionage and collecting information that could jeopardise Cambodia’s national defence,” the presiding judge Seng Leang said.
Ricketson’s defence team claims that no evidence was provided by prosecutors to warrant this sentence.
“After seven days of hearings we have seen so little evidence to put the burden on James in accusing him of being a secret agent, a spy that affects the national defence, or accusing him of espionage or anything against the government,” his defence lawyer Kong Sam Onn told Australian media.
The OPCC calls on Cambodian judicial authorities to publicly clarify in a transparent manner the reasons for Ricketson’s conviction. They should also clarify which country Ricketson was accused of spying for, a question unanswered during the trial.
The OPCC acknowledges that the Cambodian authorities have not mistreated Ricketson during his pre-trial detention and hopes that Ricketson will be kept in humane conditions and his rights respected during his incarceration.
The OPCC also calls on Cambodia’s judicial authorities to act in a fair and transparent manner during the upcoming trials of two Cambodian journalists also accused of espionage who were released on bail in August after nine months in pre-trial detention. Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who worked for Radio Free Asia before their arrest in November 2017, have been formally charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source.”
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
David Hutt, Vice President, OPCC, +855 (0)77 647 564, firstname.lastname@example.org