Australian filmmaker and convicted spy James Ricketson has been given a royal pardon
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has been granted a royal pardon, three weeks after he was found guilty of espionage.
The pardon issued on Friday was signed by Senate President Say Chhum, the acting head of state in the absence of King Norodom Sihamoni, who is reported to be visiting China.
Pardons are normally issued at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In August, the 69-year-old Australian filmaker was sentenced to six years in jail by a Phnom Penh court in August in a trial that was widely criticised as unfair.
His lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said legal papers required for his release had been issued and his client could be bound for Australia shortly.
He said Ricketson had been released from jail on Friday evening and was heading to his son Jesse's house in Phnom Penh.
His family has expressed surprise and relief at today's decision.
"We are very thankful to the Cambodian judiciary that justice has been done today," they said in a statement.
"James is almost 70 and our family has been very concerned about his health - we’re not sure how long he could have continued to endure the conditions of the notorious Prey Sar prison."
Ricketson has already spent 15 months in Phnom Penh jail since being arrested for flying a drone without a permit over a political rally organised by the now-banned opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). He has always maintained his innocence.
Ricketson's son Jesse, had re-located to Cambodia for much of last year to support his father.
"James was always innocent of espionage, or any other crime, and is now free to once more return to his passions of filmmaking, journalism and helping those who need it most," Jesse Ricketson said.
Human rights advocates condemned the verdict at the time, saying James Ricketson's trial had exposed "everything that's wrong" with the Cambodian judicial system.
"When it comes to a conviction in a Cambodian court, clearly no facts are required. 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," said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's Deputy Asia Director.
-- Additional reporting AAP