Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has arrived in Sydney days after receiving a royal pardon from Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni.
Ricketson was convicted of espionage and handed a six-year jail sentence last year after flying a drone above a rally organised by the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“I’ll be going back as soon as I can but I’ll need to recover, obviously,” Ricketson said upon his arrival at Sydney airport.
His arrest happened during a wider government crackdown on freedom of expression under Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The 69-year-old filmmaker was found guilty in August for spying and collecting information harmful to the nation following a trial that was criticised by rights activists.
Ricketson, who spent more than a year, behind bars, denied the charges and sought a pardon from King Sihamoni. On Friday, he was released from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison.
James Ricketson, convicted on spurious “espionage” charges and then pardoned, is on a flight bound for Sydney. His family are elated, over the moon, overwhelmed and relieved. (Photos obtained from immigration police). pic.twitter.com/F8D7tcnPi0
— Erin Handley (@erinahandley) September 23, 2018
Family and friends waiting to greet Ricketson at the airport thanked the king for bringing their “nightmare” to an end.
Australia’s foreign ministry also thanked Cambodia for the release of Ricketson who has been visiting Cambodia for more than 20 years.
In a letter to Hun Sen last month, the filmmaker apologised for statements made to the media that were disrespectful to the long-serving prime minister.
In July, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claimed victory following a general election in which it ran largely unopposed.
Rights groups argued that the vote was neither free nor fair given the absence of a significant challenger to Hun Sen, who has ruled for 33 years.