AN AUSTRALIAN man stands accused of espionage after flying a drone over an opposition political rally in Cambodia and could face up to a decade in jail.
Filmmaker James Ricketson was arrested, detained for six days and then charged with the offence of “endangering national defence,” the day after he flew a drone above a campaign rally for the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
If convicted under Cambodia’s espionage and treason laws, the 68-year-old could be imprisoned for between five and 10 years.
Prosecutors have denied the drone incident is the reason for his arrest, but rather claimed they “decided to open the investigation after charging James Ricketson for collecting information prejudicial to national defence,” reported Cambodia Daily on Monday.
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The man is reportedly a vocal critic of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled the country for several decades under Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.
A statement released by the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia said, “Ricketson’s treatment sets a dangerous precedent that has industry-wide ramifications. We urge the authorities to act with restraint and within the laws of Cambodia.”
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Human rights NGO Amnesty International recently released a report which accused the government of using the judicial system to crackdown on dissent and the opposition.
“In Cambodia, the courts are tools in the hands of the government,” said Champa Patel, the watchdog’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Much lip-service is paid to the judiciary’s independence, but the evidence reveals a cynical manipulation of the criminal justice system to serve political goals and silence people whose views the government refuses to tolerate.”
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun told Cambodia Daily regarding Ricketson’s case that “it’s assumed guilt. With any information, we can arrest; we can detain. Our system is like that.”
The man has reportedly had run-ins with the Cambodian authorities before for criticising the government and accusing them and children’s rights NGOs of corruption on his blog.
The CNRP made large gains in local council commune elections against the CPP on June 4, two days after Ricketson was arrested.