Australian documentary filmmaker jailed for six year in Cambodia for drone usage

The following story is a cautionary tale of why you should be careful where you fly your drone – particularly in countries with less than ideal human rights records.

An Australian documentary filmmaker, James Ricketson, was recently sentenced to six years in prison for filming and using a drone as part of his documentary centered in Cambodia.

The court in Cambodia’s capital, Pnom Penh, found Ricketson guilty of espionage and claimed he had damaged national security. Ricketson, 69, has been traveling to and from Cambodia from Australia for two decades, filming documentaries about daily life in one of the world’s poorest countries. His films highlight, among other problems, the sexual exploitation of children – frequently at the hands of foreigners. He also sponsors a family of 12 in Cambodia, giving them financial assistance for daily life.

He was arrested in the South East Asian nation in June last year after flying his drone over a political rally by the (now banned) Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP are the main opposition to Cambodia’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). It was alleged that the footage captured on his drone by Mr Ricketson was passed on the leader of the CNRP for political purposes. Ricketson stated during his trial that he has no political agenda and made his films purely for journalistic reasons.

Ricketson filming with members of the now banned Cambodian National Rescue Party

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2015 the CPP disbanded their main opposition party, banned 100 members from political participation and have arrested at least 35 opposition and civil leaders in Cambodia.

The conditions in Cambodia’s prisons are tough – they have no mattresses and prisoners receive little in the way of medical attention. According to CNN, Ricketson’s family have expressed fears regarding his health and safety in the prison as he is nearly 70, is frail and has already spend a year and a half locked up. A petition on Change.org urging the Australian government to intervene on behalf of Ricketson has gathered more than 105,000 signatures.

Ricketson had previously run into trouble with the Colombian authorities in 2014 when he was fined $1500 AUD ($1050 USD).

Ricketson’s son Jesse told CNN: “He’s an outspoken guy who has a lot of opinions but he’s always come from a place of love for Cambodia — he loves the people, loves the place,” Jesse Ricketson said. We’ll keep you updated and hope he is released.

Abridged list of countries which ban you from flying drones:

Cuba – Iraq -Iran – Mongolia – Morocco – Saudi Arabia -Syria

To all our readers – please always make sure you know the local drone rules before you fly. Do not try and fly in any of the below countries (this information was accurate at the time of writing).



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