PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The trial of an Australian filmmaker who could get five to 10 years in prison for flying a drone over a campaign rally last year was postponed Monday for a second straight month to allow his new lawyer to get acquainted with the case.
James Ricketson arrived at a Phnom Penh court in his orange prison uniform for a hearing on the charge of endangering national security, which in legal terms is tantamount to espionage.
He insisted to reporters outside the courtroom in June at was supposed to be the trial’s opening that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. But in a letter to long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month published in the pro-government Khmer Times newspaper, he apologized for his “mistake” in his statements about his situation.
The court rescheduled the trial’s opening to Aug. 16. Cambodia holds a general election on July 29, which is certain to return Hun Sen to office. Ricketson had been seen as sympathetic to his opposition, and it is not clear how the election results may affect his fate. The country’s courts are considered to be very much under government influence.
Ricketson was arrested in June last year after using a drone to film the final rally of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party before local elections. The party has since been dissolved, as part of a sweeping crackdown on the opposition and media critical of the government.
According to his family, the 69-year-old Ricketson has been detained in a 6-by-16-meter (20-by-52-foot) cell along with 140 other prisoners, and in May he was reportedly taken ill with a chest ailment and moved to the prison hospital.
At last month’s hearing, where the court granted Ricketson a delay in order to have more time to study the evidence, Ricketson spouted defiantly to reporters covering the trial.
“I’m hoping that I’ll find out today which country I’m spying for,” he said. “I haven’t been informed which country I am spying for, yet. I would love to know.”
However, his tone shifted significantly in the July 1 letter he addressed to Hun Sen.
“May I please, respectfully, send my sincerest apologies to yourself and the Cambodian Government. I now realize that my statements I have made in the press and other media are disruptive and I’ll-informed. These statements were made from a place of foreign naivety and ignorance about the complexities and difficulties of governing Cambodia,” he wrote.
“I apologize unreservedly and without condition for any distress I may have caused as a result of my ignorance of Cambodian issues. If there is anything I can do to remedy my mistake, please let me know as I only want the best for you and Cambodia,” the letter said.
Ricketson acknowledged to journalists covering Monday’s session that he had written the letter.