An Australian filmmaker was hauled in for questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday over allegations potentially relating to his filming of an opposition rally, but has yet to be officially charged after more than four days in custody – an apparent violation of Cambodian law.
James Ricketson, 68, was seen flying a drone at a Cambodia National Rescue Party rally last Friday, and was arrested the next day for what local media reports described as “stealing information”.
Under Cambodian law, a person cannot be detained without charge for more than 48 hours if the alleged crime is a misdemeanour, or 72 hours for a felony, according to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun.
“Within 48 hours and 72 hours, they should drop the charges or send them to the court,” he said. The 72-hour window lapsed on Tuesday afternoon.
But Sam Oeun said the fact Ricketson had been sent to court hinted authorities intended to lay charges.
The case comes against the backdrop of an increasingly restrictive atmosphere for the media leading up to elections. In recent weeks and months, a court summons was issued for an RFA journalist on allegations he concealed his identity to gain an interview with politically sensitive prisoners, the National Election Committee released a code of conduct that prohibited publishing “confusing” information leading to a “loss of trust in the election”, and a court complaint was lodged against two Cambodia Daily journalists for seemingly routine reporting.
Other media reports said Ricketson was detained for living illegally in Cambodia, but Uk Hai Sela, head of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Department, said he was not aware of the specifics of Ricketson’s case. “This is a Cambodian National Police matter, not an immigration case,” he said.
National Police representatives could not be reached yesterday.
The filmmaker has proved controversial in the past; in 2014, he was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for threatening to broadcast allegations that the Brisbane-based Citipointe Church had sold children.
Ricketson, according to the church, wanted to interview two children in their care after he had interviewed their mother for a 1993 film, and bribed their parents in an attempt to speak with them.
“Ricketson has tried to get two girls who are vulnerable to human trafficking, whose mother was a victim out of our shelter in order to continue making a film for his personal benefit,” part of Citipointe’s complaint read.
Ricketson was questioned until yesterday evening and it was unclear if he had legal representation.
A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Australian Embassy “is providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, to an Australian man detained in Cambodia”, but declined to comment further, due to “privacy obligations”.
Justice Ministry spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment last night. Sources yesterday said Ricketson will be subjected to further questioning, likely today.