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Who Is The Aussie Filmmaker Jailed For Spying In Cambodia?

The father of two is no stranger to controversy.

An Australian filmmaker was sentenced to six years in a Cambodian jail on Friday. He's convicted of spying for another country.

James Ricketson was arrested in June 2017 for “collecting information that could be damaging to national defense”.

Who Is James Ricketson?

Born in 1949, Ricketson is an award-winning filmmaker and specialises in documentaries and humanitarian projects.

In 1981, the 69-year-old was one of the founding members of the Australian Directors Guild -- a national professional association for film, television and digital directors.

In 1973, he won Best Film and the Alan Stout Award at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Awards for Reflections, and in 1994 the Best Adapted Screenplay for Blackfellas.

Ricketson has visited  Cambodia several times over the past two decades.

Detained Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gestures from a prison van on arrival for his trial at a Phnom Penh court on June 15, 2018. Image: Getty Images
Why He Is In jail?

Ricketson was detained almost 15 months ago after flying a drone without a permit over a political rally organised by the now banned opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Ricketson has been being charged with espionage -- specifically collecting information for a foreign state that could prejudice Cambodia's national defence.

The court heard he had offered footage of the rally to then CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for party use and that it contained secret locations of security deployments.

This photo taken on October 24, 2013 shows Australian James Ricketson (R) filming as Sam Rainsy (Center-R), former opposition leader, and Kem Sokha (Center-L) opposition leader attend a demonstration in Phnom Penh. Image: Getty Images

The investigation involved 15,000 emails and 1,600 pages of files, before Ricketson was charged with espionage crimes dating back to 1995.

However, prosecutor Seang Sok produced only a handful of emails and 10 photos as evidence he said tied Ricketson to Rainsy who was accused by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of fomenting 'colour revolution' backed by the United States.

Sok said Ricketson spied for "foreign states" but would not name them.

After his guilty verdict was read out by the three judges presiding over his case, Ricketson repeatedly asked "Which country am I spying for?".

Image: Getty Images

Roxanne Holmes, the daughter of Ricketson, has condemned the ruling, and said the six yea jail term was a “death sentence” for her father.

“I do not believe the prosecutor made his case. There was absolutely no evidence presented that could have led to such a finding by any fair-minded person,” she said in a media statement.

“Our next steps will be to continue to fight for justice for James, a good, kind and compassionate man.”

Ricketson echoed the view that the evidence presented at trial was not sufficient to warrant the guilt verdict.

“I have tried, in my times spent I Cambodia, to support and bring aide to an be of service to the poor,” he said in the statement.

“I am a film maker and a journalist, I have not committed the crime for which I have been sentenced. The evidence at my trial did not substantiate this outcome."

Previous Controversies AND LAWSUITS

In 2016 Ricketson was found guilty of defaming an organisation that finds and prosecutes foreign paedophiles.

He was banned in 2014 from talking to Screen Australia, after being accused of "harassment and intimidation" of staff.

"We believe that your conduct towards Screen Australia is unreasonable, and that your correspondence places our staff at risk," former CEO of Screen Australia Ruth Harley said to him a letter.

"Screen Australia has taken the decision that it will not accept further funding applications from you, or engage in correspondence with you about funding applications."

READ MORE: Cambodians Vote In "Sham" National Election

READ MORE: Australian Social Worker Dies In Cambodia

That same year he was convicted of defamation over claims made against a Brisbane-based church that took in two children of Chanti — his documentary subject.

Ricketson has also allegedly made 'false allegations' against the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF) founder and fellow Australian Scott Neeson. 

The CCF claims Ricketson damaged its reputation with false allegations posted to his personal blogs -- however they chose not to litigate.

This photo taken on October 23, 2013 shows Australian James Ricketson (top-R) filming as Sam Rainsy (C), former opposition leader, greets supporters during a demonstration in Phnom Penh. Image: Getty Images
Cambodian Political Climate

Political tensions are running high in Cambodia, where the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has ruled for almost three decades.

The campaign against Ricketson was spearheaded by government-sanctioned media in the country, where he was labelled a "spy".

The CPP, lead by Prime Minister Hun Sen, won last month's election with an 80 per cent landslide, despite 19 other political parties contesting.

Human Rights Watch labelled the election results a 'sham'.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Image: Getty Images
Previous Legal Problems In Cambodia

This isn't the first time Ricketson has fronted a Cambodian court.

In 2014, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence and fined six million Cambodian riel ($1,500) by a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge.

Ricketson was found guilty of blackmail and threatening to dishonour the Citipointe Church --which is based in Brisbane -- after accusing it of selling children in Cambodia.

In 1993, Ricketson filmed a documentary on the Citipointe Church and was revisiting it for a follow-up documentary in 2014 when he was arrested.

What Now?

Ricketson must now decide whether he will appeal or accept the verdict and seek a royal pardon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs told ten daily they are providing "full consular assistance" to Ricketson and his family.

"Mr Ricketson is subject to legal proceedings under Cambodian law and must now consider his response to the court’s decision using the avenues open to him under Cambodian law," it said.

"The Australian Government will consider what further appropriate support we can provide after that time."

The Prime Minister has also promised his assistance to Ricketson.

With AAP.

Contact the author at jdunne@networkten.com.au.