Australian filmmaker James Ricketson writes letter of apology to Cambodian PM

By @chelean on
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gestures inside a prison truck as he arrives at the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 15, 2018.
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gestures inside a prison truck as he arrives at the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 15, 2018. Reuters/Samrang Pring

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has written a letter of apology to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, asking him for his release. The 69-year-old director is accused of espionage that could see him imprisoned for a maximum of 10 years.

Ricketson has been jailed in Prey Sar prison since June 2017 after he was arrested for flying a drone over a Cambodia National Rescue Party rally in Phnom Penh. He has been accused of espionage, facing charges under Article 446 of the country’s Criminal Code for “collecting information that could be damaging to national defence.”

His bail request was rejected in January. He had his first hearing last month.

Australia filmmaker James Ricketson (C) speaks to the media at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 17, 2018. Australia filmmaker James Ricketson (C) speaks to the media at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 17, 2018.  Reuters/Samrang Pring

In a letter published by local paper Khmer Times, Ricketson has apologised to Hun Sen for the “disruptive and ill-informed” statements he made to the press.

“May I please, respectfully, send my sincerest apologies to yourself and the Cambodian Government,” he wrote. “I now realise that statements I have made in the press are disruptive and ill-informed. These statements were made from a place of foreign naivety and ignorance about the complexities and difficulties of governing Cambodia.

“I sincerely regret having made any disrespectful comments and I unreservedly apologise in this regard to yourself and your Cambodian government. I can see much more clearly now how much good your government brings to the country and the stability it affords to Cambodians.”

He continued, “I apologise unreservedly and without condition for any distress I may have caused as a result of my ignorance of Cambodian issues. 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.”

He thanked Hun Sen for his understanding, calling himself an “uninformed foreigner.”

Ricketson, a vocal critic of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, has been living in or visiting Cambodia for 23 years, his family members said. According to Times, he has been heavily invested in charity work, focusing on marginalised communities in the country.

Peung Yok Hiep, his lawyer, told Khmer Times that her client was working as a freelance journalist in Cambodia but did not hold a press card issued by the Ministry of Information on the day of his arrest. Police inspected and checked his cameras and other film documents following his arrest, and they found that most of his data had links to the now-defunct CNRP and the Sam Rainsy Party since 1997.

“He is a journalist. He has the write to collect information, photograph or film all politicians and rallies in Cambodia,” the lawyer said. “He has not committed any crime he has been charged with.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has intervened in Ricketson’s case in February, making formal diplomatic representations to her Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn.