Friday verdict for Australian filmmaker's Cambodian trial

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gets off from a prisoner truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Ricketson is on trial in Cambodia on charges of endangering national security by flying a drone over an opposition party rally last year. Closing arguments in the trial are expected Wednesday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, center, arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Ricketson is on trial in Cambodia on charges of endangering national security by flying a drone over an opposition party rally last year. Closing arguments in the trial are expected Wednesday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson talks from inside a prisoner truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Ricketson is on trial in Cambodia on charges of endangering national security by flying a drone over an opposition party rally last year. Closing arguments in the trial are expected Wednesday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, right, gets off from a prisoner truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Ricketson is on trial in Cambodia on charges of endangering national security by flying a drone over an opposition party rally last year. Closing arguments in the trial are expected Wednesday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The trial of an Australian filmmaker accused of endangering Cambodia's national security concluded Wednesday with the prosecution insisting that he had engaged in journalism in order to carry out spying.

Jamese Ricketson was arrested in June last year for flying a camera-equipped drone over a rally held by the opposition party. The charge against him is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The three-judge panel is to deliver its verdict on Friday.

In his closing statement Wednesday, prosecutor Sieng Sok accused Ricketson, 69, of spying on sensitive sites for an unnamed foreign country. He said Ricketson's charitable activities were a cover for espionage.

"Since he arrived in Cambodia, the accused person has been collecting political, social and economic information about Cambodia and sending it to a foreign state. He has kept collecting this information for 22 years, until the day he was arrested," Sieng Sok said. "The accused person was using his journalism job and helping poor Cambodians just to hide his real work, but in fact he is a spy and has been filming at the sites of the country's security forces."

Ricketson's lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said in his closing statement that little evidence was presented against Ricketson during the trial, and none suggesting that he worked for a foreign power.

A handful of personal emails seized from Ricketson suggested he was sympathetic to the country's political opposition and critical of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, but revealed no sensitive or secret information. Several of his photos and videos showed security forces on duty, but nothing that wasn't publicly viewable.

Kong Sam Onn said the charge against his client was totally without merit, and asked for his acquittal.

"He came to Cambodia to help poor people by producing documentaries about the poor to sell to foreign companies so that he could take that income to help them," Kong Sam Onn said.

Ricketson and several character witnesses had testified that he had had provided financial assistance to several poverty-stricken Cambodians. Prominent Australian movie director Peter Weir testified earlier about Ricketson's career as a professional filmmaker.

Kong Sam Onn acknowledged Ricketson had flouted regulations by producing documentaries without official permission and working as a journalist with expired credentials, but said those actions did not amount to espionage.

Ricketson also made a final statement in which he denied any wrongdoing and said he came to Cambodia because he loves the country and its people and sought to help the poor during his two decades here.

He told the court he hoped its verdict would be decided on the basis of the evidence and that he would get justice.

"I will get free, I hope," he told reporters as he headed to a prison van.

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