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Ricketson trial closes, verdict due Friday

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James Ricketson speaks to journalists earlier this week at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Pha Lina

Ricketson trial closes, verdict due Friday

The trial of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson closed on Wednesday, with the defence portraying the 69-year-old as “a man who had done a lot to help” Cambodia.

However, the prosecution accused him of hiding behind the facade of a “humanitarian” to “incite foreign countries to hate” the Kingdom and its leader.

Presiding Judge Seng Leang said the verdict in the case, where Ricketson is charged with collecting information that jeopardises Cambodian defence under Article 446 of the Criminal Code, will be handed down on Friday.

As of Wednesday’s hearing, Ricketson had served 454 days in pre-trial detention in Prey Sar prison.

Prosecutor Sieng Sok alleged that Ricketson had been collecting “harmful” information. “Since 1995, he entered Cambodia to collect information on social situations and security, and gave it to foreigners again and again,” Sok said.

He said Ricketson had close connections with the leaders of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), including Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, Yim Sovann, Tioulong Saumura and Mu Sochua.

“To hide his spying activities, the accused presented himself as a humanitarian worker, but this was to illegally collect information without permission from state authorities."

“The accused incited foreign countries to hate Cambodia, especially to hate Samdech Techo [Hun Sen], the highest leader of Cambodia,” Sok said.

Sok said Ricketson had produced five films about Cambodia with the intention to make people despise the government and change the Kingdom’s leadership.

“The actions of the accused violated Articles 439 and 446 of the Criminal Code. I would like the council of judges to sentence the accused according to the law,” the prosecutor said.

But Kong Sam Onn, Ricketson’s defence lawyer, said Article 446 was passed in 2010, so it couldn’t be used to charge Ricketson for crimes dating back to 1995 as Cambodian laws cannot be used retroactively.

“We have heard about a man who spent a lot to help society, but he is being charged with a crime that is not stated in the law."

“That man is James Ricketson. He is retired and weak, not having the strength to carry out spying activities,” the lawyer said.

He said Ricketson had a long history of entering Cambodia as a filmmaker, director, writer and blogger, and that the films he produced resulted in a law being passed to tackle child prostitution.

“The prosecutor said the information that Ricketson collected jeopardised Cambodia. This is not true. He was just telling the truth. Poor people exist in all countries and this is not always the fault of the authorities,” Sam Onn said.

The defence also argued that what Ricketson wrote to CNRP leaders was not illegal because he was a journalist while it was an opposition party, and the people concerned were members of parliament.

“Were his [actions] poisonous? How did he jeopardise Cambodia? Sam Onn asked. “We should not devalue the work Ricketson has done over 22 years in Cambodia. We should give value to his generosity.”

The lawyer said the pictures Ricketson had collected may have shown Cambodia in a negative light, but they did not harm Cambodian national defence.

Sam Onn said the charges brought against Ricketson were intended for those involved in collecting military and state secrets to be given to foreign actors.

“He wrote articles and produced films, and showed them to the public. Would a spy do this?” he asked.

In urging the council of judges to find Ricketson not guilty, Sam Onn said: “I would like the judges to release my client from the charges and set him free.”

Ricketson used his final words to the court to explain his case, spending around 30 minutes doing so, finally telling the judges: “I don’t think what I have done is a crime, unless journalism is a crime.

“I hope [I receive] justice based on facts, evidence and truth. The truth will give you freedom,” he said and thanked the judges.

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