Jailed Australian Ricketson optimistic after questioning

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson is hauled away in a prison transport following a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson is hauled away in a prison transport following a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Pha Lina

Jailed Australian filmmaker James Ricketson yesterday emerged from Phnom Penh Municipal Court hopeful that his case would be thrown out after he was questioned about 10 emails sent or received shortly after Cambodia’s national election five years ago.

During more than two hours of questioning by Investigating Judge Pich Vicheathor yesterday, a handful of emails to international journalists and activists were brought under scrutiny, Ricketson said.

He wrote down a rough list of the email recipients and their dates – all from late July or early August in 2013 – which was seen by The Post.

Ricketson was arrested in June last year after he was spotted flying a drone above an opposition rally. He has spent the last eight months in prison, and faces up to 10 years behind bars if convicted under Cambodia’s espionage laws.

“They can’t find any evidence at all [for the crime] of espionage. I have a list of emails … There’s absolutely nothing in there,” Ricketson said as he was escorted by police to a prison van yesterday.

“I would say from [the judge’s] demeanour that he realises there’s been a big mistake, that there is no evidence whatsoever.

“I’m hoping he will release me. But you can say it was a very good meeting and I think he was impressed by the fact that I’m not a spy, I’m just a filmmaker and I just want for this mistake to be rectified and to continue working with poor people in Cambodia, building houses and planting trees.”

A few months after Ricketson’s arrest for allegedly collecting information that could jeopardise Cambodia’s national defence, Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha was arrested on suspicion of treason, and the party was forcibly dissolved by the Supreme Court.

Ricketson had been in close contact with the CNRP’s former leader Sam Rainsy, who went into self-imposed exile in 2014. He was forced to resign as head of the party after legal amendments rushed through by the ruling party effectively banned him from holding the position.

Rainsy and the CNRP fought a close contest in the July 28, 2013 national election and then challenged the ruling party’s victory.

The Post was not able to verify all emails listed by Ricketson, and purportedly discussed in court, yesterday. One of them was to Rainsy on August 5, 2013. The former opposition leader last night forwarded an email he received from Ricketson on that day in which he forwarded to Rainsy a photograph taken at a rally in Battambang and offered to introduce him to the photographer.

One journalist, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the case, confirmed they sent and received emails to Ricketson in early August of 2013. Those emails, seen by

The Post, involve friendly chit-chat and occasional, but innocuous, references to Rainsy.

Ricketson’s lawyer, Peung Yok Hiep, said that “emails that are linked to Sam Rainsy … are just [used to] accuse him”.

Yesterday’s questioning comes shortly after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrote a letter about the case to her Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, though its contents are not known.

Ricketson is due to be questioned again on January 19.

His son Jesse said his family remained hopeful that compassion from both governments would bring “this painful situation” to an end.

“My dad's not a spy. There’s just no evidence. We really hope that through hearings such as today’s this will become clear and the case will be dismissed,” he said.

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng