The trial of Australian filmmaker and accused spy James Ricketson reached a climax on Thursday, with the Cambodian prosecution putting forward a case that the defence team said did not even warrant a rebuttal.
Mr Ricketson, 69, has been languishing in a Phnom Penh prison for 14 months, charged with collecting information that could endanger Cambodian national security after he was arrested for flying a photographic drone over a political rally.
Three days into the trial, the prosecution finally produced its evidence: two emails – one to a Cambodian opposition leader and another to an Australian lawyer – and about a dozen photographs of Cambodian authorities at work or preparing to put down demonstrations.
“Is that it?” an astonished Mr Ricketson said after prosecutor Sieng Sok rested his case.
“Is that why I’ve been locked up for 14 months? That’s evidence that I am a spy? Is that what you are suggesting?”
After beginning proceedings with another probing of Mr Ricketson’s work as a filmmaker, the prosecution zeroed in on a 2015 email that he had sent to a friend in Australia saying that long-ruling Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had “guns, tanks, and a 10,000-strong personal bodyguard unit”.
“Where did you get this information?” the prosecution asked. “What is your intention, and why did you write this?”
In the second scrutinised email, Mr Ricketson told opposition leader Sam Rainsy that he had heard on the “journalist grapevine” that there was a warrant out for his arrest.
“Do you work for Sam Rainsy,” the questioning went. “Why do you need to send him this information?”
An agitated Mr Ricketson maintained that this was regular correspondence for journalists, as the prosecution tried to place him in cahoots with Mr Rainsy, the long-time adversary of Prime Minister Hun Sen who has been living in Paris since 2015 to avoid a series of politically motivated charges.
After examining the emails, the prosecution displayed a dozen photographs taken from Mr Ricketson’s computer, showing police and riot police in formation and at work around the disputed 2013 Cambodian election.
The prosecution implied that the images were taken with a drone and potentially inside restricted areas.
When the prosecution closed and handed the floor to Mr Ricketson’s legal team, defence lawyer Kong Sam On looked puzzled.
“According to the evidence put forth by the prosecution, I don’t need to produce a defence,” he said.
“The judges can see the facts clearly. There is no concrete evidence to put the burden on my client.”
The trial will resume on Friday. Mr Ricketson faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.