Court Upholds ‘Espionage’ Charge for Australian Filmmaker

A bid to quash the charges against a 68-year-old Australian filmmaker and ruling party critic accused of jeopardizing national security was rejected on Wednesday, sending the case to trial, his lawyer said.

Arrested near Phnom Penh’s riverside a day before the June 4 commune elections, James Ricketson was charged with collecting information prejudicial to national defense, a charge that falls under the treason and espionage section of the criminal code.

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson is escorted to a police truck after being questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in June 2017. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Photographs posted to government-aligned Fresh News at the time of his arrest showed Mr. Ricketson flying a drone over a CNRP rally heading from Wat Chas across the Chinese Friendship Bridge to the city center on June 2.

During a closed hearing at the Appeal Court on Wednesday, Presiding Judge Nguon Im rejected the plea to drop the charges and “ordered the investigating judge to continue the probe,” said Ou Helene, Mr. Ricketson’s lawyer, who declined further comment.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, however, said the charge had been rightfully laid against Mr. Ricketson after a government investigation showed he had been supplying information to former-CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who went into self-imposed exile in France two years ago.

“He is an antenna for the opposition party,” General Sopheak said. “We had been investigating him for a long time.”

Gen. Sopheak did not elaborate on what kind of information had allegedly been shared between the CNRP and Mr. Ricketson.

Mr. Rainsy last night dismissed the claim he had received information from Mr. Ricketson. “I categorically deny this allegation,” he said in an email.

Ouk Vandeth, country director of International Bridges to Justice, a legal rights NGO, said regardless of what information Mr. Ricketson might have been supplying, the charges seemed ill-fit. The charge applies to filming “at a military base, government headquarters or the Royal Palace,” he said, giving examples of high-surveillance areas. “As we have seen, he was filming the Sokha Hotel. So what is wrong? Everyone takes pictures there, so that would mean those people are wrong, too.”

Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith could not be reached for comment.

The court previously had denied bail to Mr. Ricketson on July 28. The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. No trial date has been set.

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