Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday sentenced Australian filmmaker James Ricketson to six years in prison for collecting information considered prejudicial to national defence.
“Please, tell me. Which country was I spying for?” James Ricketson said after Judge Seng Leang announced the verdict.
Mr Ricketson had been behind bars since his arrest in 2017 for flying a drone to film an opposition rally without authorisation.
With 30 days to appeal the sentence, Mr Ricketson’s defence lawyer Kong Sam Onn said on Friday that his client has two options going forward; either file an appeal, or write a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni seeking clemency.
Mr Sam Onn said a plea for amnesty is likely to be taken, while an appeal will only be filed if the King refuses to grant a pardon.
He noted that throughout Mr Ricketson’s week-long trial, no substantial evidence was presented, adding that his client had no intention of disrupting the country’s defence affairs.
“Throughout the trial, I noted that there was very little evidence to convict my client. There was no evidence backing my client’s espionage charge,” Mr Sam Onn said. “All we can do now is write a letter seeking clemency from the Prime Minister and the King.”
He noted that Mr Ricketson, 69, has seen his health deteriorate since being jailed last year. Mr Ricketson has lost weight and has been having trouble consuming meals, he noted.
Jesse Ricketson, Mr Ricketson’s son, said on Friday that his family has been devastated by the verdict.
“It’s been a really long hard road to this point, and now this result is just heartbreaking,” he said. “I feel so much for my father right now.”
“We just need a bit of time to absorb what’s just happened and figure out the next step. As always, we’re hoping and praying for generosity, and leniency, and compassion to be shown to my father,” he added. “Hopefully, we’ll see something good happening in the future.”
Friday’s verdict was slammed by Human Rights Watch as cruel and unusual.
Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, said that Mr Ricketson’s charges were baseless and that no convincing evidence was presented during the trial.
“This trial exposed everything that’s wrong with the Cambodian judicial system: ridiculously excessive charges, prosecutors with little or no evidence and judges carrying out political orders from the government rather than based on what happens in court,” Mr Robertson said. “When it comes to a conviction in a Cambodian court, clearly no facts are required.”