An Australian filmmaker jailed for espionage in Cambodia has received a royal pardon and been released, less than a month after he was sentenced to six years in prison in a case observers criticised as a farce.
James Ricketson, 69, was arrested in June last year after he flew a drone over a rally held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue party (CNRP), which was effectively banned months later. Ricketson was sentenced in late August.
“Convict James Stanforth Ricketson is pardoned,” said the royal decree, which was signed by the acting head of state, Say Chhum. It said the request for the pardon had come from the country’s prime minister, Hun Sen.
Ricketson‘s lawyer Kong Sam Onn confirmed he had been released and was now with his family. Ricketson’s son Jesse said the family was “relieved and excited” to have him back.
“It has been a really tough 16 months and I’m just kind of in shock now,” Jesse said, expressing gratitude to Cambodia’s king, Norodom Sihamoni, for “bringing this nightmare to an end”.
A six-day trial – which featured a surprise appearance by the Hollywood director Peter Weir, who served as a character witness for his friend – ended with the court convicting Ricketson of “espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defence”.
The prosecution had accused Ricketson of working as a filmmaker in Cambodia for years as a front for espionage, but the verdict did not mention for which country he was alleged to have been spying. Human Rights Watch called the trial proceedings a “ludicrous charade”.
A series of activists and opposition lawmakers were freed in the weeks after July’s national election, which critics have said was neither free nor fair.
The CNRP was dissolved in the lead-up to the poll, stamping out the only real competition faced by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s party. The CPP took all 125 parliamentary seats.
After the vote Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than three decades, returned to a pattern of easing up on dissent.