Jailed Australian filmmaker James Ricketson was hauled in for a fresh round of questioning about alleged “espionage” activities at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, only to have the session postponed.
Shedding light on the murky set of circumstances surrounding Ricketson’s case, Sourng Sopheaktra, a lawyer who represented him yesterday, revealed police had mined Ricketson’s emails and other documents after seizing his phone, laptop and other electronic devices.
Sopheaktra said yesterday’s court session was postponed until at least next week, as those seized documents had not all been translated into Khmer.
Ricketson, 69, was arrested in June and has spent six months in pre-trial detention – the maximum length of imprisonment before trial unless an extension is requested – after he was seen flying a drone at a CNRP rally.
He was later charged with planning to furnish foreign agents with information “liable to prejudice the national defence”, an accusation observers and his lawyer dispute, arguing his case is part of a broader crackdown on independent media and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in September for “treason”, and his party – the only real challenger to the ruling party at upcoming elections – was dissolved two months later over accusations it was colluding with foreign powers.
“It is because of his relation with the opposition party – that’s why he got in trouble,” Sopheaktra said. “If he made films related to the ruling party, maybe [it would] not matter.”
He said a preliminary document at the court alleged Ricketson had contact with many people in the opposition party. Ricketson, for his part, has told the court he came to the Kingdom “to help poor people and make films, not to be a spy”.
Sopheaktra said Ricketson had yesterday dismissed him as his lawyer and would instead be represented by defence attorney Peung Yok Hiep.
Ricketson’s daughter, Roxanne Holmes, yesterday told The Post of the emotional toll her father’s imprisonment was having on their family.
“James adopted me many, many years ago. He saved my life. He is not a spy,” she said, calling him “a real humanitarian”.
“We all love him. We’re absolutely devastated that he’s not here, it’s heartbreaking.”
Australian interest in Ricketson’s case has peaked over the past month, but while some loudly sing his praises, Ricketson has also caught others offside, including the Cambodian courts, who have found him guilty of blackmail and defamation in the past.