Australian Filmmaker Facing Espionage Charges Denied Bail

An Australian filmmaker and outspoken government critic who was charged with espionage crimes earlier this month was denied bail during questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, his lawyer said.

James Ricketson, 68, was arrested on June 3 along the capital’s riverside. Police had initially claimed they arrested him after they became suspicious of his behavior and asked for his passport, which they said he failed to immediately produce. However, photographs posted to government-aligned Fresh News showed Mr. Ricketson flying a drone over an opposition rally the day before his arrest.

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Australian filmmaker James Ricketson is escorted to a police truck after being questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

He was charged on June 9 with collecting information prejudicial to national defense, which is listed under the espionage section of the Criminal Code and carries a prison sentence of between five and 10 years.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ricketson’s lawyer Ou Helene said she would request bail for her client again in a month’s time, in line with the legal timeframe.

“The judge is trying to speed up the trial. He understands that jail isn’t a good place to be,” she said, adding that she expected her client to be back in court for further questioning next week.

Ms. Helene declined to provide any details of the basis of the charges or the content of the investigating judge’s questioning, saying that as the investigation was still open, “all that information is strictly confidential.”

Outside a waiting room at the court, Mr. Ricketson said there had been no warrant for his arrest and that he was denied a lawyer for six days.

After questioning, as he was being escorted to a truck to take him back to Prey Sar prison, he told reporters that there was “no case here.”

“There’s no evidence,” he added.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said earlier this month that in theory, the court would have to produce “concrete” evidence that Mr. Ricketson had been collecting sensitive information, that it could impact national security and that he had intent to give the information to a foreign country.

However, he added, the reality of Cambodia’s justice system was not as stringent.

“It’s assumed guilt. With any information, we can arrest; we can detain. Our system is like that,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)

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