Controversial Australian film-maker, James Ricketson, 68, has been charged under Article 446 of the Cambodian Criminal Code for “receiving or collecting information, processes, objects, documents, computerised data or files, with a view to supplying them to a foreign state or its agents, which are liable to prejudice the national defence” following his arrest last week while flying a drone over a CNRP rally in Phnom Penh.
Initial reports of the arrest were confusing, with some official sources saying variously that he was arrested for ‘spying’ while others stated that he didn’t have his passport with him and was ‘living in Cambodia illegally’.
However, Mr Ricketson faced an investigating judge on Friday, was charged under Article 446 and remanded in custody. He was sent to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh where he is expected to remain until a trial date is set, usually several months after arrest.
The Australian Embassy confirmed that an Australian national has been arrested and has said that he is receiving consular assistance.
Mr Ricketson is not a stranger to controversy in Cambodia, and has faced legal action in the Kingdom before. In 2014 he was found guilty and given a two year suspended prison sentence for defaming Citipointe Church in a row over his attempts to remove two girls from a refuge they managed, and earlier this year he was found guilty in absentia and fined for defaming anti-child sex abuse NGO, APLE.
Mr Ricketson is the publisher of a blog that regularly attacks a wide variety of NGOs, including APLE and Scott Neeson’s Cambodian Children Fund which he accuses of widespread corruption. He is a vociferous critic of Cambodia’s legal system and has campaigned vigorously for the release of the British convicted child sex offender and former bar owner, David Fletcher, who is currently serving 10 years for the rape of an underage Cambodian girl.
It is not clear why Mr Ricketson was operating a drone at last weekend’s CNRP rally. He is believed, however, to have been working on a documentary about exiled former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for several years.
Several people have been arrested in Cambodia for illegally operating drones in sensitive areas in the last twelve months.
If convicted, Mr Ricketson faces between five and ten years in prison.