By Matt Bloomberg
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson told a Cambodian court how he was dragged from the busy Phnom Penh riverside, hurled into a police vehicle and detained for six days before being told that he had been charged with espionage in June last year.
- Mr Ricketson’s defence has focused on irregularities surrounding his arrest
- He was allegedly arrested without a warrant, complainant or any victims
- The 69-year-old is facing up to 10 years in prison
Mr Ricketson, 69, is facing up to 10 years in prison on accusations that he has spent more than two decades collecting information that could jeopardise Cambodia’s national security. His arrest came the day after he was reprimanded by authorities for flying a photographic drone over a political rally.
Having established Mr Ricketson as a legitimate filmmaker by presenting an extensive body of work to the court, his legal team shifted its focus this week to the arrest, which the defendant claims was “arbitrary” and “illegal”.
On June 3 last year, Mr Ricketson told the court, he was sitting on the riverside talking to Chap Thy — a Cambodian woman he has been supporting since meeting her as a child beggar some 20 years ago — when a plainclothes police officer approached and began a “friendly” conversation.
Two or three minutes into the conversation, Mr Ricketson said, he noticed about a dozen uniformed officers approaching from different directions.
“They asked me to accompany them to the police station,” he told the court. “They said they just wanted to ask me some questions.”
After admitting there was no warrant for his arrest, Mr Ricketson said, the police asked to see his passport, which he said he could produce in his hotel room just a few hundred meters away.
“They weren’t interested in the passport,” he said.
“The ununiformed officer stepped away to make a phone call and then told me that I must accompany him to the station. I told him that if he has no warrant, I do not wish to accompany him and it was at this point that three or four officers lifted me by the knees and elbows and carried me toward their vehicle.”
In her testimony last week, Ms Thy, who is also the subject of one of Mr Ricketson’s unfinished documentary projects about Cambodia’s poor, said police offered no explanation, threatened to break the phones of bystanders filming the scene, and then detained her overnight for attempting to intervene.
“They dragged him to the ground and then picked him up and put him in the car,” Ms Thy said of Mr Ricketson, whom she called her “Australian father”.
“The whole time he was screaming, ‘What is the reason for this?'”
Mr Ricketson testified he was held at the immigration police headquarters without charge for four nights, well beyond the maximum 72 hours allowed under Cambodian law.
On June 7, he said, he was taken to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where he signed a document that he believed, based on conversations with officers guarding him, would secure his release following what was “obviously a misunderstanding”.
Instead, he was returned to lockup, where he spent two more nights.
On June 9, Mr Ricketson was taken back to the court, where an investigating judge told him he had been charged with espionage and transferred him to Prey Sar prison, where he has remained for the past 14 months.
Since his arrest, government-friendly media have placed Mr Ricketson in a network of individuals and entities fomenting a “colour revolution” to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years.
In five days of hearings, the prosecution has presented as evidence just two emails and a series of photographs retrieved from Mr Ricketson’s devices — all of it seemingly innocuous and rejected by the defence as not worthy of a rebuttal.
Under cross examination, the prosecution grilled Mr Ricketson about the day he flew his drone over a rally for the now-outlawed political opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“I took the video of my own accord,” Mr Ricketson said, “and I gave a copy to the CNRP.”
The trial continues.