Asia-Pacific

Family, activists fight for Australian filmmaker's release as he awaits trial in Cambodia

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Australian journalist Peter Greste has a strong message for detained filmmaker James Ricketson – that he is not alone. Mr Greste has backed a petition calling for Ricketson's release from Cambodian prison, as he awaits trial on espionage charges.

Human rights activists and family members are fighting for the release of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson ahead of his Cambodian trial. 

The award-winning documentary maker is awaiting the decision on his appeal asking to be granted bail before his trial on alleged espionage charges.

Ricketson was arrested in June 2017 after he flew a drone over a government opposition rally.

He was charged with harvesting information that could threaten Cambodia's national security.

Someone who knows first-hand what the filmmaker is enduring is Australian journalist Peter Greste - who spent a year in in an Egyptian prison.

"There was no evidence the Cambodian authorities have presented to substantiate the espionage charges they've laid against James Ricketson. Without that evidence it's hard to escape the conclusion it's more about politics," Mr Greste told SBS News.

That assertion is echoed by Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson who says free speech is deteriorating in Cambodia ahead of the country's elections later this year.

"I think it is very dangerous for anyone to voice criticism of the government right now. We've seen independent media completely shuttered, the main newspaper shut down," Ms Pearson said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it's providing consular assistance to Ricketson but would not be drawn on further details of the case.

Family members have recently launched a petition to call for his release, saying Ricketson is a humanitarian, not a spy.

Fairfax columnist and Ricketson's friend Elizabeth Farrelly said she had received harrowing accounts from him about conditions in prison.

Although she says there is no intention to agitate the Cambodian Government, she is worried her friend will be too frail to last behind bars for another year if there is no intervention.

"If the legal process runs its course he will have been in prison for over a year and that's just dangerous," Farrelly said.

"When he writes to me he tells me the most intolerable are the skin infections everybody gets, the lice, the scabies, the pustules."

Peter Greste speaks to SBS about James Ricketson
Journalist, Peter Greste, speaks to SBS about James Ricketson's case in Cambodia.
SBS

Mr Greste remembers a time when he too felt uncertain and alone.

His advice to Ricketson is to take comfort in widespread support.

"Sometimes it feels like there is no end to this, no light at the end of the tunnel. So when that happened I always narrowed my focus to what I felt I could survive," Mr Greste said.

"And to anyone who thinks, what point is there in a signature, what point is there in a hashtag? We saw with the case of my colleagues and I when the public got behind us.

"Every bit counts... and to James I would tell him if I could, you are not alone."

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