Paris Peace Accords 23 Oct. 1991

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Government must act over Australian filmmaker held in Cambodia

Australian filkmmaker James Ricketson appears in a Phnom Penh court earlier this month.
Australian filkmmaker James Ricketson appears in a Phnom Penh court earlier this month. Photo: Fresh News Cambodia

Government must act over 

Australian filmmaker held in Cambodia

Editorial / Sydney Morning Herald | 16 January 2018
As the court date for Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, currently detained in a Cambodian jail, draws close, it remains unfortunate that our government has, so far, declined to act on his behalf.
Cambodian authorities are holding Mr Ricketson on suspicion of "espionage", but have so far provided no details of the charges against him, nor told him what the specific allegations are, beyond accusing him of "receiving or collecting information, processes, objects, documents, computerised data or files with a view to supplying them to a foreign state or its agents, which are liable to prejudice the national defence".
Earlier this month the Turnbull government insisted that its policy meant it was unable to intervene on his behalf, which means it cannot tell the Cambodian government that the 68-year-old is not an Australian spy, if that is the case.
Meanwhile support for Ricketson is growing in Australia with thousands of people signing a petition calling for his release and criticising Canberra for failing to intervene in the case.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop effectively lobbied the Egyptian government when Australian journalist Peter Greste was unjustly detained for 400 days on concocted charges of aiding terrorism.
Mr Ricketson's case, while not enjoying the same profile as that of Mr Greste, would appear just as worthy of high-level government intervention to ensure he is treated fairly, and accorded due process. That includes coming clean about the allegations against him, releasing him on bail, and ensuring he does not become another victim of the wave of political repression being unleashed by the Hun Sen government.
Those working for Cambodia's largest pro-democracy non-government organisations say they have been followed by government agents, and their homes placed under surveillance.

In August, the government shut down the Cambodian office of the National Democratic Institute and imposed a crippling tax bill on Cambodia Daily, one of the country's few independent news outlets. On the evidence of these and other recent developments, the remaining vestiges of Western political liberalism in Cambodia are slowly being snuffed out.
On the day he was arrested, Mr Ricketson had been seen flying a drone over a rally held by supporters of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party. Most of the leaders of the CNRP have recently fled, been silenced or detained as Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party cracks down on critics ahead of this year's election.
The operation of the drone – if that was indeed the reason he was picked up – appears to be a pretext. Mr Ricketson's main offence appears to be political.
A frequent visitor to Cambodia over the past three decades, he has maintained regular contact with the country's opposition, including leader Sam Rainsy, who is living in exile in France.
Mr Ricketson has made himself a thorn in the side of Cambodian authorities in other ways, by campaigning against influential organisations running large orphanages in Cambodia. Controversially, he also campaigned for the release of a British man he said was wrongly detained on child sex charges. Mr Ricketson received a suspended sentence for defamation in 2016. None of this can justify the ordeal he is being forced to undergo.
He has been denied bail, and has been confined to a cell with more than 20 others for seven months. On Wednesday, his appeal for release pending charges being laid is scheduled to take place before the country's highest court. It is to be hoped the Australian government is not committed to standing back, maintaining (as it has thus far) that all it can offer is low-level "consular assistance". This is no time for official passivity.

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