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May 17, 2021

Jailed journo James Ricketson speaks May 29, 30

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David Bradbury

Despite being tall, very athletic, and once handsome; despite having on-the-job training as an accused foreign spy who was thrown into a squalid Cambodian jail, Australian independent journalist and filmmaker James Ricketson has no desire to apply to be the next James Bond. 

However as one of Australia’s most talented original new wave filmmakers of the 1970s and 80s, Ricketson can both act and direct, and has won numerous overseas and Australian film festival prizes. 

His films are shown all over the world.

Australian Director James Ricketson during his trial for espionage in Cambodia. Photograph: Heng Sinith/AP

James will be speaking at Mullum’s Court House Hotel on May 29 and the Byron RSL Club May 30 to tell his story and address the vital issue of reportage freedom, which is as important as ever given Julian Assange’s expected extradition to the US.  

For fifteen months, Ricketson was held on espionage charges and endured what would break most. 

He shared a cell with up to 140 other prisoners and was forced to stand up most of the time with one square metre of space as he took turns with other men to sleep on the bare floor. 

There was a rough hole in the concrete floor in which to relieve himself in front of his fellow prisoners. 

What was the heinous crime James had committed to demand such barbaric treatment? 

Was he a refugee fleeing a country that Australia and the US had invaded in order to grab their oil? No. 

He had rocked the boat one too many times with the Cambodian military government and their elite. 

He stuck up for the street kids of Phnom Penh, whom he has been working with over the last 20 years, charting their lives with his camera in their daily struggles for survival. 

Living on a rubbish dump, their parents are too poor to afford even a basic wooden shed in the poorest slum parts of the capital. 

Absent govt support

While James was left to languish in a Cambodian jail with his health deteriorating, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop were noticeably absent in arguing for his release. 

Yet when Scott Morrison was minister for Immigration, he had offered the same Cambodian government $40m to take a handful of refugees. 

Like those on the islands of Nauru and Manus, James had become a political prisoner. 

But he never gave up hope of being released.

Silencing critics 

In James Ricketson’s own words: ‘The intention on the part of the Cambodian government in jailing me was not merely to silence a critic, but to send a clear message to fellow members of the fourth estate [media]: Criticise the Cambodian government at your peril’.

James Ricketson will show clips from his Cambodian films and I will interview him about his ‘life as a spy’ in Cambodia at Mullum’s Court House on May 29 and the Byron RSL Club May 30.

Both events start at 6pm. 

All funds raised will go to support James’s continuing work to house 20 kids and their parents in Cambodia. 

Tickets are available at bit.ly/2PQmzqg. 

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