Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday began its espionage trial against Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, who was charged over the collection of information deemed detrimental to the country’s national security last year.
Before the trial began, Mr Ricketson’s lawyer asked the court to grant his client bail, a request Presiding Judge Seng Leang rejected due to the severity of the charges.
The court then took a recess and resumed the trial at about 6pm.
During his questioning yesterday, Mr Ricketson denied spying for western countries as alleged by the prosecution.
“I didn’t commit what the court is accusing me of,” he said. “I am not a spy for any country.”
Defence lawyers Peung Yok Hiep and Kong Sam Un said that the court must produce more witnesses, a point that the judges agreed upon.
The defence then called their own witness, 74-year-old Australian film producer Peter Bill who went to school with Mr Ricketson.
During his testimony, Mr Bill told the court that their relationship goes back to when they both were attending film school.
“We are good friends and we shared experiences with each other about film production,” Mr Bill said.
He said that Mr Ricketson had come to Cambodia to make a documentary and a series of short films.
“James told me that he also took footage of protests in Cambodia,” Mr Bill said. “Some of his articles can be annoying to some people, but James never even joined a political party in Australia.”
“No one knows him better than me because he and I are very good friends,” he added. “He is not a rude person in general and he always held cameras in order to take photos or footage.”
Mr Ricketson has been in jail since being arrested in June 2017 after flying a drone to film a CNRP rally without authorisation. Police confiscated the drone and other film making materials.
The court charged Mr Ricketson with espionage, which could land him in jail for up to ten years if convicted.
Last month, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing his regret over his actions. Mr Ricketson asked Mr Hun Sen to sponsor his release.
“I apologise unreservedly and without condition for any distress I may have caused as a result of my ignorance of Cambodian issues,” he said in the letter. “If there is anything I can do to remedy my mistake, please let me know as I only want the best for you and Cambodia.”
Judge Leang said the trial will continue on Monday.