Australian filmmaker jailed for ‘spying’ to be deported from Cambodia

James Ricketson was issued a royal pardon on Friday after strongman premier Hun Sen requested it from the king

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:09pm

An Australian filmmaker who received a royal pardon from Cambodia will be deported on Saturday, immigration officials said, a day after he was released from a six-year sentence.

James Ricketson, 69, was given jail time three weeks ago for “espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defence” by a Phnom Penh court.

He was then issued a royal pardon on Friday, after strongman premier Hun Sen requested it from the Cambodian king.

“We will deport him today,” said Keo Vanthan, spokesman for the immigration department. “We are looking for a flight for him.”

Ricketson’s lawyer Kong Sam Onn confirmed this, saying the Australian’s visa to stay in Cambodia had expired.

The embattled filmmaker had been in prison since June 2017, after footage emerged of him using a drone to film a rally of the now-defunct opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

His six-day trial showed him to be defiant and combative, and featured a surprise appearance by Australian film director Peter Weir, who served as a character witness for his friend.

The prosecution accused Ricketson of working as a filmmaker in Cambodia as a front for spying activities, but the verdict failed to name which country he was supposed to be spying for.

His truncated prison term came after a series of activists and opposition lawmakers were freed in the weeks following July’s national election.

The CNRP, which had served as the sole legitimate opposition force to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, was dissolved in the lead-up to the controversial poll, clearing the path for the CPP to take all 125 parliament seats. This effectively rendered Cambodia a one-party state, raising concerns in the West.

After the poll Hun Sen – who has been in power for more than three decades – returned to a pattern of easing up on dissent.

Ricketson’s pardon came just days before Hun Sen is expected to travel to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.