During his closing statement for the espionage trial of jailed Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, a deputy prosecutor yesterday suggested the journalist also be convicted of treason.
Sieng Sok, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor, said that Mr Ricketson should also be charged with treason for collecting information considered prejudicial to national defence.
Mr Ricketson has been behind bars on espionage charges after he was arrested in June 2017 for operating a drone to film an opposition rally without permission.
Mr Sok said that the new charge would be fitting because Mr Ricketson is suspected of spying under the pretence of being a foreign journalist since 1995 until his arrest last year.
He argued that Mr Ricketson knew and contacted opposition party leaders, including Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, Mu Sochua, Yim Sovann, Hong Sok Hour and Son Chhay.
“The accused person was hiding behind the notion that he was a journalist in order to collect information in Cambodia,” Mr Sok said, adding that the information was sent to foreign countries.
“The actions of the accused include taking pictures without permission many times in Phnom Penh and creating a documentary that harboured resentment toward the Cambodian government,” he added. “Please, judges, sentence him in accordance with the law.”
Kong Sam Onn, Mr Ricketson’s defence attorney, said during his closing statement that this was the first time the word treason was used against his client.
Mr Sam Onn noted that his client was charged under article 446 which stipulates the collection of information detrimental to national defence, while article 439 stipulates treason.
“Charging James Ricketson under article 439 is unreasonable,” he said, noting that it is normal for journalists to have a direct line to major political figures.
“I think that just knowing a politician is not a crime. We need to recognise that James knew them because they were politicians,” he said.
Mr Sam Onn also addressed the court on whether or not it was plausible for Mr Ricketson to commit espionage.
“Which part of the national defence did James aim to destroy?” he asked. “Causing public disorder is not aiming to destroy national defence. I think [the prosecutors] had the charges confused.”
“His mistake was taking photos with a drone without permission from City Hall,” he added. “There’s no evidence that James committed espionage. I would like to request for the judges to acquit my client of all charges and release him immediately.”
Mr Ricketson denied all charges against him in court yesterday.
“No evidence proved that I committed espionage,” he said. “This is suppression of critics, and journalists who went against the government.”
He added that he never intended to harm Cambodians.
“In fact, I love Cambodia and Cambodian people, and I have spent more than 20 years to help the poor in Cambodia. I have plans to continue my work when I leave prison,” Mr Ricketson said. “I hope the court will give me my freedom.”
A verdict is due on Friday.