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Emails in focus on sixth day of Ricketson trial

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Australian filmmaker James Ricketson (centre) is shown after his hearing Monday at the capital’s municipal court. Pha Lina

Emails in focus on sixth day of Ricketson trial

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson was grilled on Tuesday, over his connections to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Sam Rainsy.

It marked the sixth day of his hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over espionage charges.

Despite the judge noting the presence of email communication between the filmmaker and some CNRP leaders, Ricketson wholly denied any affiliation with the party.

Probing an email sent by Ricketson to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, consulting judge Koy Sao asked if the message was meant as “incitement”.

“Was your text journalistic, as a filmmaker or an incitement to make people hate Cambodia?"

“In that email, you even defamed Samdech Hun Sen by saying that he had killed people systematically, and many other things, especially speaking ill of the Cambodian People’s Party and [you] seemed to be supporting CNRP."

“This kind of writing is not journalistic work. It is an incitement. What was your intention in writing this?” Sao asked.

In the email, Ricketson claimed that prime minister-designate Hun Sen had violated human rights, stolen people’s land, destroyed homes and intimidated and jailed those who opposed him.

The email speculates that Hun Sen is preparing for one of his sons to succeed him as the next leader of the country.

The message urges Turnbull not to welcome Hun Sen to Australia and cut aid to Cambodia. He goes on to say that Hun Sen has over 10,000 well-armed bodyguards.

Responding to queries on the email, Ricketson said: “This is a private email. My purpose was to express my opinion. If you Google you will see such an opinion and if it is for spying, which part of the email violated article 446?”

In another email, Ricketson wrote to Sam Rainsy’s wife, Tioulong Saumara, asking her to verify his writing before it was sent to Australia.

Sao asked why he needed to ask her to edit his writing. Ricketson said it was just to verify if there were any factual errors. He said he did not have any connection with the CNRP apart from his work as a journalist.

Ricketson said he had sent video footage from his drone as well as photos to the CNRP, but this was on a voluntary basis. He denied giving advice to the opposition party.

“Between February 21 and 22, 2014, there were five emails you exchanged with Sam Rainsy ... what video clip did you send to Rainsy?” Presiding Judge Seng Leang asked.

Ricketson said the video in question was for Rainsy’s Facebook page, and that it was sent via a YouTube link.

Leang asked what he received in return for sending the message to Turnbull.

“I did not receive anything from this. We criticised the government for the deal to send 31 refugees for $50 million."

“Writing to the prime minister is normal in Australia. He receives about 100 letters every day. I believe Prime Minister Hun Sen also receives a lot of comments every day,” Ricketson said.

The judge then asked him who would suffer if Australia cut aid to the Kingdom.

“Cutting aid just means that Cambodians would have to stand strong by themselves, not depend on aid,” Ricketson replied.

Some emails mentioned establishing a better media team for the CNRP, as well as the topic of a “Cambodia Spring”.

The judge grilled Ricketson about a blog post in which he speculated about a plan where Rainsy would take over the government in a bloodless coup. Ricketson responded by saying that the takeover would occur under legitimate methods.

Two witnesses, Khun Chork, Ricketson’s godson, and Khun Rosa, his god-granddaughter also testified.

They said the 69-year-old never told them anything about the military, but rather gave them $110 per week to help their families, even while he was in jail.

Judge Leng ruled that the trial would conclude on Wednesday.

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