An Australian filmmaker has been sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of espionage in Cambodia.
After a six-day trial, Judge Seng Leang on Friday found James Ricketson guilty on two charges of espionage.
“We have decided to convict [him] to six years in prison for espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defence,” he said.
The prosecution had accused Ricketson of working as a filmmaker in Cambodia for years as a front for spying.
“Unbelievable. Which country am I spying for?” Ricketson asked out loud in court.
Ricketson has been held in jail since his arrest in June last year after he flew a drone over a rally held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was disbanded months later.
The CNRP’s dissolution paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen to win a clean sweep of all parliamentary seats in July’s national election.
Ricketson’s lawyer Kong Sam Onn told reporters outside the court that he plans to request a royal pardon from the Cambodian king.
Earlier this week, 14 opposition legislators and activists jailed before the election were released after sending apology letters to Hun Sen, which the premier said he sent on to the monarch.
The family of the 69-year-old filmmaker hopes he will be released soon.
“This is absolutely devastating for James and for us, and for his family, and his friends, and everyone. It’s been such a long hard process and to get this result is just devastating. I don’t know … we need some time to get our thoughts together and work out what to do next. Obviously we won’t be giving up,” said his son Jesse.
The trial “exposed everything that’s wrong with the Cambodian judicial system”, according to Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson who decried the court’s findings.
Robertson said the Australian was used as a “scapegoat” by the government to crack down on political opposition.
He also criticised what he said was inaction by the Australian government in “failing to publicly and consistently challenge this ludicrous charade and demand Ricketson’s immediate and unconditional release”.
Ricketson has faced legal problems in the past. He was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2014 for allegedly threatening to broadcast allegations that a church working in Cambodia had sold children.
Two years later, he was fined after a court found him guilty of defaming an anti-paedophile NGO by accusing the group of manipulating witnesses.