Cambodia pardons Australian filmmaker jailed for espionage

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gestures as he leaves the Municipal Court in Phnom Penh on Aug 16

Ricketson was arrested on June 3, 2017 in Phnom Penh while flying a drone illegally to capture images of a rally by the court-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Ricketson was released from prison at 5 p.m., said Be Tea Leng, the deputy director of Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison where Ricketson had been jailed. Hun Sen won all 125 seats contested at elections in July and has since released many dissidents and CNRP supporters jailed before the poll.

Mr Ricketson's pardon comes just a few days before Mr Hun Sen is scheduled to travel to NY to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

Under Cambodian law a pardon can not be issued until the appeals process has been exhausted or dropped.

Ricketson's trial was described as farcical by his sympathizers, largely because prosecutors never specified whom he was allegedly spying for and failed to present any evidence that he possessed or transmitted any secrets.

He was detained on pre-trial detention for over a year before his sentencing and subsequent release.

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The accusations against Mr Ricketson came amid a spate of politically-charged moves by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, which was facing perhaps the greatest threat ever to its three-decade rule.

Ricketson's lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said his client would go first to Phnom Penh and then travel to Australia.

"James will go back to his home country after he is released, but later he will be back to Cambodia because the pardon letter doesn't bar him from re-entering Cambodia", he said.

The prosecution alleged Ricketson was spying for "foreign states" but declined to say which ones or call any witnesses to substantiate the charges.

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