Cambodian authorities pardoned Australian filmmaker James Ricketson on Friday, clearing the way for his release from a six-year prison term imposed following his conviction last month on a charge of espionage.
The pardon, signed by Acting Head of State and Senate President Say Chhum, was followed quickly by a warrant issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordering prison authorities to free Ricketson, who had been sentenced on Aug. 31 in a trial widely regarded by rights groups as unfair.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday, Ricketson’s lawyer Kong Sam Onn welcomed his client’s release, saying he had requested the pardon and had sent a letter to Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen voicing regrets for anything Ricketson might have done to offend government officials.
“James had no intention of opposing the government,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for the Cambodia-based rights group Adhoc, said that Ricketson may have been released in order to “defuse political tensions” in the country, adding that no evidence of espionage by Ricketson had ever been presented in court.
“James Ricketson should have been released immediately after his trial,” he said.
As of Sept. 21, no word of Ricketson’s actual release from custody had been received.
Ricketson, 69, was arrested in June last year after flying a drone over a rally by the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November over an alleged plot to overthrow the government,
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) then swept all 125 parliamentary seats up for grabs in a general election this year in July.
Judge Seng Leang of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Ricketson guilty on two charges of espionage and ordered him to spend six years in jail, without providing details about which country he had been convicted of spying for.
The filmmaker had faced up to 10 years in prison for the charges.
Hun Sen, who secured another five-year term to add to his 33 years in office after official results of the July 29 election were announced on Aug. 15, has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics in the lead up to ballots, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.