Australian journalist James Ricketson, who was sentenced to six years behind bars for espionage, left for home on Saturday night after receiving a royal pardon.
His lawyer Kong Sam Onn said yesterday that Mr Ricketson, 69, flew back to Australia at 9pm from Phnom Penh International Airport. Mr Sam Onn said he is thankful and happy that his client was pardoned.
“I am happy that my client was pardoned because Phnom Penh Municipal Court found him guilty of espionage,” he said.
On August 31, Mr Ricketson was sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty of espionage for collecting information considered prejudicial to the national defence.
Mr Ricketson had been behind bars since his arrest in June 2017 for flying a drone to film an opposition rally without authorisation.
His arrest, detention and convictions was decried by rights groups and shorty after his sentencing, his legal team opted to drop the appeal process in order to seek a royal pardon.
Prime Minister Hun Sen then asked King Norodom Sihamoni for the pardon, which was granted on Friday by acting head of state Say Chhum.
During his ordeal, Mr Ricketson continuously declared his innocence and maintained that he was simply working as a journalist when detained.
“Please, tell me which country was I spying for?” he asked said during his trial, a question that was never answered despite the conviction.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, yesterday issued a statement welcoming the pardon, but noted that no one should forget the months Mr Ricketson spent behind bars.
“It’s excellent news James Ricketson has finally been pardoned but no one should forget the 14 months of hell he faced in Prey Sar prison before reaching this point,” he said. “This very welcome release does not erase the shameful procession of farcical questions and ‘evidence’ that a Cambodian kangaroo court used to convict Ricketson nor the reputational damage this case has brought to the Cambodian judiciary.”
“I hope that after he is reunited with his family, he will give a full reporting about all that has happened to him, and the injustices he suffered at the hands of the Cambodian government and judiciary,” he added. “Obviously, we wish him all the best and hope he makes a full recovery from this long ordeal.”
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Saturday thanked the Cambodian government for Mr Ricketson’s release.
“I welcome the news that James Ricketson’s pardon has been approved by the Cambodian government,” Ms Payne said in a statement. “I thank my counterpart, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, for his government’s positive consideration of Mr Ricketson’s petition.”
Mr Sam Onn noted that Mr Ricketson plans to come back to Cambodia to continue helping poor families in the Kingdom.
“Mr Ricketson is requesting the government to help house 18 poor families who are living at a rubbish dump in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district,” he said. “When he returns, my client will also request the court to return filmmaking equipment which was seized from him after his arrest.”