Australian filmmaker James Ricketson could face up to 10 years in prison after being charged on Friday with gathering information that could jeopardise Cambodia’s national security.
Ricketson, 68, was held by police for almost a week and questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for two days before the charge was laid. He was arrested on Saturday afternoon after he was seen flying a drone above an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party election rally last week.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna confirmed Ricketson been charged under Article 446 of the Cambodian Penal Code, which involves “receiving or collecting information, processes, objects, documents, computerised data or files, with a view to supplying them to a foreign state or its agents, which are liable to prejudice the national defence”.
It carries a prison term of five to 10 years.
The legal action against Ricketson comes amid a media clampdown ahead of the June 4 commune 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.
The Australian Embassy confirmed earlier this week that Ricketson was receiving consular assistance but declined to comment further, citing privacy obligations.
Ricketson has proved a controversial figure in the past, having been involved in public spats with Screen Australia. In 2014, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence for threatening to defame a Brisbane-based church by suggesting the church sold children.