Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, who was jailed as a political prisoner in Cambodia and eventually deported, has vowed to return to the country that imprisoned him.
“I’ll be going back as soon as I can but I’ll need to recover obviously,” Mr Ricketson told media when he arrived in Australia on Sunday evening.
“I need to spend some time with myself and some time with my family. But yeah, I’ll be going back.”
Mr Ricketson was sentenced to six years’ jail in late August on espionage charges after a trial widely condemned as farcical.
He declined to answer questions about the way his release was secured, saying only that he was thankful Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recommended he be pardoned by the king, “for a crime I did not commit”.
He also suggested there was “room for improvement” in the Australian government’s handling of the matter.
“I’ll leave it at that for the time being — I really need to go home and go to bed now,” Mr Ricketson said.
“I do have a good story to tell but now, at the airport, is not the right time to tell it.”
Mr Ricketson’s family was ushered into a restricted area of Sydney Airport, as the 69-year-old arrived back in Australia about 8pm on Sunday after being pardoned by Cambodia’s king.
He was arrested in June 2017 for using a drone to capture aerial footage of a political rally organised by the now-banned Cambodian National Rescue Party.
Mr Ricketson denied the charge and continued to proclaim his innocence while in custody.
His freedom comes after dropping his legal appeal and applying instead for a royal pardon. The pardon was granted on Friday night in the name of Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni – but it was signed by Senate president Say Chhum. Such pardons are granted on the advice of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr Ricketson’s family expressed their relief at his release and return.
“It’s incredible. We’re all still in shock,” his son, Jesse, who moved to Cambodia to support his father, told the ABC.
“We’re so glad it’s all over. It’s a giant relief.
“We get to go back to our lives now. It’s been stolen time for a lot of people.
“We send our biggest gratitude to Say Chhum and the king, who have shown us compassion in this situation and brought this nightmare to an end.”
Mr Ricketson’s adopted daughter, Roxanne Holmes, said she was “over the moon” at his return home.
“All I want to do is hug him,” she told the ABC.
“You don’t need any words. I am going to see my father again. He means the world to me.
“Part of me feels numb — I haven’t seen him for 15 months. Another part of me is really quite scared about — looking at his physical appearance — what he’s been through.”
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the pardon meant the end of a distressing time for the filmmaker and his family.
“I thank my counterpart, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, for his government’s positive consideration of Mr Ricketson’s petition,” Ms Payne said.
There are reports the Australian government applied political pressure to secure Mr Ricketson’s release.
But his daughter, Ms Holmes, told The Project she had repeatedly petitioned then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull without receiving a response.