A 68-year-old Australian filmmaker and government critic, apparently seen flying a drone over opposition campaigners, could be facing up to a decade behind bars after being charged on Friday with crimes related to endangering national defense, a court official said.
James Ricketson was arrested last Saturday near Phnom Penh’s riverside after police claimed they became suspicious of his behavior and asked for his passport, which they say he failed to immediately produce.
Photographs posted online to government-aligned Fresh News appeared to show Mr. Ricketson flying a drone over a hoards of opposition CNRP campaigners on June 2, but police denied that this was the reason for his arrest and have since remained tight-lipped on the reason for his detention.
However, Ly Sophana, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said on Friday that Mr. Ricketson had been charged with crimes related to threatening the country’s security.
Deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok “decided to open the investigation after charging James Ricketson for collecting information prejudicial to national defense,” Mr. Sophana said.
If found guilty, he faces between five to 10 years in prison.
An outspoken critic of the Cambodian government and numerous child protection groups he has accused of corruption on his “Cambodia 440” blog, Mr. Ricketson has been involved in a number of run-ins with the law.
In 2014, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence for threatening the Australian-based Citipointe Church operating in Cambodia for “threatening to dishonor” it by broadcasting accusations that the church sold children.
The filmmaker was also found guilty last year of defaming anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants for accusing the organization of manipulating witnesses.
In both cases, Mr. Ricketson claimed he learned of the charges and the date of the court hearing after having been found guilty.