James Ricketson vows to return to Cambodia after 'lovers' quarrel'

An exhausted James Ricketson has arrived back on home soil flanked by family after the Australian filmmaker's release from a Cambodian jail.

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has returned to Australia after being pardoned by Cambodia's king.

Ricketson, 69, landed safely in Sydney just before 8pm on Sunday.

He was sentenced to jail for six years on August 31 for espionage in a trial that was widely criticised by human rights activists and politicians in Australia.

He had denied the charges but dropped his appeal to seek a royal pardon, which was granted by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday evening.

James Ricketson at the Cambodian Supreme Court.
Source: AAP

Ricketson has described his time imprisoned in Cambodia for a crime he denies committing as "a lovers' quarrel".

"My relationship with Cambodia has been a 20-year love affair and the last 15, almost 16 months has been like a lovers' quarrel," he told reporters at Sydney Airport on Sunday.

"I'll be going back as soon as I can but I'll need to recover obviously.

"I need to spend some time with myself and some time with my family."

The film director was sentenced on August 31 in a trial that was widely criticised by human rights activists and politicians in Australia.

He was arrested at a political rally in June 2017.

The Australian Directors' Guild co-founder deflected questions about how his release came about but thanked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for recommending the king pardon him "for a crime I did not commit".

He said there was "room for improvement" in the way the Australian government handled his case.

"I'll leave it at that for the time being. I really need to go home and go to bed now," he said.

"I do have a good story to tell but now, at the airport, is not the right time to tell it."

Daughter Roxanne Holmes, who along with nephew Bim Ricketson accompanied Ricketson through Sydney airport, said it was wonderful to have her dad back.

"We're all really elated and excited, and we all just want him to get healthy," she said.

Ricketson thanked his son Jesse and his partner Alex for making the "huge sacrifice" of moving to Phnom Penh to support him while he was imprisoned.

He said he was most looking forward to an ocean swim on return to his coastal home.

Being lucky enough to have such an option in Australia was a key lesson Ricketson said he had learned while completely cut off from the world in a maximum security prison with 6000 other men.

Ricketson used some of the flight home to catch up on recent world events.

"I managed to read a few magazines and to find out about a whole bunch of children who were trapped in a cave somewhere in Thailand," he said.

"I haven't seen a movie or television or nothing for 15 months."

Ricketson and his family are expected to hold a press conference on Monday morning.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the pardon meant the end of a distressing time for the filmmaker and his family.

She thanked her Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn for his government's positive consideration of Ricketson's petition.

Published 23 September 2018 at 2:14pm, updated 24 September 2018 at 7:35am