News People ‘No way he’s a spy’: Family devastated after Australian filmmaker found guilty of espionage

‘No way he’s a spy’: Family devastated after Australian filmmaker found guilty of espionage

Ricketson was originally sentenced to six years in prison after a court ruled he used his film projects as cover while collecting information. Photo: AAP
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The family of James Ricketson is devastated after the Australian filmmaker was found guilty of espionage in Cambodia.

Ricketson, 69, dressed in prison orange, was sentenced to six years in prison by three judges in Phnom Penh on Friday, 15 months after being detained after flying a drone without a permit over a political rally.

Nephew Bim Ricketson, who described his uncle as a “humanitarian” who “cares deeply for the Cambodian people”, said “there was no way he was a spy”.

He told reporters on Friday afternoon the family was hoping for the best but have been left devastated by the verdict and lengthy jail term.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Indonesia Ricketson can expect consular “and other support” from the Australian government.

“As usual in these types of events it is best to deal with these things calmly and directly and in a way which best assists a citizen,” he said.

Ricketson being led into court ahead of his sentencing on Friday. Photo: AAP

Bim Ricketson said the family are concerned about his welfare, noting he has lost a lot of weight, had skin problems and many undiagnosed health issues.

“We would be very concerned about his health over six years in those conditions and his mental state,” he said.

“There are no mattresses and, importantly, very little medical attention available. For someone who is sick and has a number of ailments, it is very challenging for him.”

Earlier, after the sentence was delivered, a hand-cuffed Ricketson yelled out from the prison van, “Which country am I spying for?”

The prosecutor had declined to say who Ricketson was spying for and instead focused his questions on the ABC and the Australian Film Commission, which funded his films.

Speaking from a court waiting room shortly before the verdict, he told The Associated Press, “I hope I am free today and I could go home.”

Accused of flying a drone without a permit over a political rally organised by the now-banned opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), Ricketson was detained almost 15 months ago.

He has always denied the charges.

However, the court heard he had offered footage of the rally to then CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for party use and it contained secret locations of security deployments.

His computer was seized and he faced a lengthy investigation, involving 15,000 emails and 1600 pages of files, before being charged with espionage dating to 1995.

Prosecutor Seang Sok produced only a handful of emails and 10 photos as evidence he said tied Ricketson to exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was accused by Prime Minister Hun Sen of fomenting a “colour revolution” backed by the United States.

Those emails included a letter from former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, a query to Sam Rainsy regarding an arrest warrant and another containing details of Hun Sen’s personal body guard unit, information Ricketson argued was freely available.

The emails suggested Ricketson enjoyed a close relationship with Sam Rainsy that went well beyond that of an independent journalist who was simply doing his job – a cornerstone of his defence.

He offered to formulate a 2013 election media strategy, sought CNRP advice on opinion pieces he wrote and told the court: “My opinion at the time was that the CNRP was the better political party”.

His lawyers said that did not make him a spy.

Peter Weir
Hollywood director Peter Weir.

On August 17, acclaimed Australian film director Peter Weir took the stand as Ricketson’s first witness.

Under intense and repetitive questioning over Ricketson’s political leanings, his body of work and his sources of funding, Mr Weir revealed through a translator that the accused had in the past received grants for film projects from “the Government”.

Mr Weir quickly clarified that he was referring specifically to the Australian Film Commission, but the judges and prosecutor seized on the opening, digging into the witness for details of Ricketson’s collaborations with Canberra.

The family is seeking support from the Australian government to put pressure on Cambodia to release James Ricketson.

-with AAP