Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Journalist jailed in Egypt backs petition to free Ricketson

Journalist jailed in Egypt backs petition to free Ricketson

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in June to be questioned over allegations of ‘espionage’.
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in June to be questioned over allegations of ‘espionage’. Pha Lina

Journalist jailed in Egypt backs petition to free Ricketson

Australian journalist Peter Greste – a press freedom advocate and one of three Al Jazeera journalists formerly imprisoned in Egypt – has thrown his support behind a petition calling for the release of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson from Cambodian prison.

Ricketson was arrested in June on charges of “espionage” after he was spotted flying a drone at an opposition rally. He has spent more than six months in Phnom Penh’s overcrowded Prey Sar prison.

On December 31, Greste tweeted to his 50,000 followers: “Help free another journalist in prison on national security charges. No evidence that James Ricketson in Cambodia is guilty of anything other than caring.”

In 2013 and 2014, Greste was jailed for more than 400 days alongside his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy after they were found guilty of “aiding a terrorist organisation” in Egypt, in a case that sparked an international outcry.

Greste said yesterday that elements of Ricketson’s case paralleled his own, and were part of a “very disturbing trend worldwide”.

“In the absence of any clear evidence . . . against James, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that this is intended to send a message to journalists and other critics of the government to shut up, to stop being critical, to stop supporting the opposition,” he said.

“Our experience in Egypt was incredibly infuriating because the judicial system was so politicised . . . I would urge the Cambodian authorities to make sure they do everything to operate openly and transparently and fairly.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former Al Jazeera journalist and press freedom advocate Peter Greste, pictured next to his Egyptian colleague Mohamed Baher in 2014 in an Egyptian jail, recently pledged his support for jailed Australian filmmaker James Ricketson. AFP

Last month the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 262 journalists were imprisoned worldwide, with Cambodia making the list after authorities arrested two former Radio Free Asia journalists in November, also on allegations of “espionage”.

“Using anti-state charges in terrorism or espionage legislation to silence critics is a really serious attack on democracy and freedom of speech,” Greste said.

The petition – which calls “shame” on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for apparent inaction in Ricketson’s case – claims he is one of 27 men in a single cell, which Prison’s Department spokesman San Keo yesterday said was entirely possible.

“I acknowledge that at Prey Sar the building was built for just 1,800 people, but now, there are up to 5,700 people there. So you can imagine how tight it is,” Keo said.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reiterated it was offering consular assistance to a man detained in Cambodia, but would not respond to the allegation that Australia had a spy on Cambodian shores, or on whether Foreign Minister Bishop had appealed to her Cambodian counterpart for Ricketson’s release.

Ricketson’s petition had around 3,500 signatures as of December 30, a number that has now swelled to almost 6,000.

While many have championed Ricketson's work, he is a divisive figure, having been involved in public spats with Screen Australia and at times espousing conspiracy theories on blog. In 2014, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence for threatening to defame a Brisbane-based church by suggesting the church sold children. In late 2016, he was found guilty of defaming child protection NGO APLE by Cambodian courts, and the Cambodian Children's Fund has also accused him of harassment for what they characterise as "false allegations".

MOST VIEWED

  • US names new ambassador to Cambodia

    US President Donald Trump on Friday appointed W Patrick Murphy as the new US Ambassador to Cambodia, replacing incumbent William A Heidt. A press release posted on the White House’s website said nominee W Patrick Murphy is currently acting principal deputy assistant secretary at

  • Kingdom is at a crossroads between East, West after poll

    It was dubbed a success by caretaker prime minister Hun Sen after the electoral victory of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which is poised to take all seats in the National Assembly. But the July 29 national election has not been positively looked at by

  • Chinese influence to sweep Kingdom?

    Growing Cambodia-China ties have seen the latter’s influence sweep across the Kingdom through increased investments and tourism. The Asian giant has become the leading source of foreign funds in Cambodia, fuelling the construction sector with huge casino and hotel projects. Much of the growth

  • Final poll results confirm first single-party Assembly

    IN an unprecedented situation in Cambodian politics, the official results of the July 29 national elections have declared that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will take all 125 seats in the National Assembly on the back of it receiving 76 per cent of the votes. The National