An Australian filmmaker was sentenced Friday to six years in prison by a Cambodian court on espionage charges related to flying a drone at an opposition party rally last year.
James Ricketson, 69, faced up to 10 years in prison for “collecting information that could be damaging to national defense” per the country’s criminal code. He has been detained since his arrest in June 2017.
“My love for Cambodia and its people is heartfelt,” Ricketson said in a statement released by his family after the verdict was announced Friday, his 456th day in Phnom Penh’s overcrowded Prey Say prison. “I am a film maker and a journalist, I have not committed the crime for which I have been sentenced.”
His son, Jesse Ricketson, called the verdict “truly devastating.”
“They whisked him out of the room pretty quick, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or give him a hug,” Jesse Ricketson tells TIME. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Prosecutors said Ricketson, a frequent visitor of Cambodia over the past 23 years, used documentary filmmaking as a cover for espionage, though they never specified which country he was believed to be spying for.
Ricketson was also a critic of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Much of the weeklong trial focused on his allegedly subversive political activity, specifically emails sent to exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called the trial a “ludicrous charade.”
“From day one, James Ricketson has been a scapegoat in Hun Sen’s false narrative of a so-called ‘color revolution’ used as an excuse to crack down on the political opposition and civil society critics,” Robertson said. “Cambodia should stop tormenting Ricketson and his family, release him immediately and unconditionally, and quash this conviction.”
While on a visit to Indonesia, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday that Ricketson “can expect to get all the consular and other support from the Australian government you would expect in these circumstances.”
In a statement to TIME, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said Ricketson’s options were limited to “the avenues open to him under Cambodian law.”
Those include filing an appeal or petitioning Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni for a pardon.
“At the moment we’re just processing the news,” Jesse Ricketson tells TIME. “We’re going to keep doing everything we can to keep bringing this situation to an end as quick as we can.”
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