Australian journalist James Ricketson pardoned in Cambodia | News | DW | 21.09.2018
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Australian journalist James Ricketson pardoned in Cambodia

The documentarian had been accused of espionage, but prosecutors failed to provide any evidence. Ricketson is the latest in a series of political prisoners released recently by Cambodia's repressive government.

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson was granted a royal pardon in Cambodia on Friday, several weeks after he was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage in a widely criticized trial.

 Ricketson was originally arrested last year for using a drone to film a political opposition rally, as part of strongman Hun Sen's crackdown on the press ahead of national elections.

Hun Sen has been prime minister for 33 years and won re-election in July in a vote decried by rights group and western countries as fixed, considering Hun Sen had the only credible opposition party dissolved by the courts last year. His Cambodian People's Party now holds all 125 legislative seats.

Ricketson's trial has been described as farcical by observers outside of Cambodia. Prosecutors gave no indication of who Ricketson was allegedly spying for and provided no physical evidence of any wrongdoing.

Although Ricketson was technically pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni, it is well known in Cambodia that royal pardons are granted at Hun Sen's request. The prime minister has had several political prisoners released in recent weeks, now that his hold on power has once again been secured.

Canberra muted after arrest

It is thought that Hun Sen targeted Ricketson when support for the opposition looked very strong, and believed that the Australian was supporting them. The filmmaker has always insisted that he was making an unbiased documentary on the election.

During his trial, he also said he had been trying to buy some land in Cambodia to resettle some families he had gotten to know who lived at a garbage dump.

Canberra was criticized for its apparently lukewarm reaction to Ricketson's arrest, but now speculation is mounting that it was because Australian officials were working behind the scenes to secure his release.

es/ng (AP, AFP)

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