Julie Bishop intervenes to help Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, held in Cambodia on spy charges

Julie Bishop intervenes to help Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, held in Cambodia on spy charges

Julie Bishop intervenes to help Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, held in Cambodia on spy charges

Updated 7 February 2018, 13:15 AEDT

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop writes to her Cambodian counterpart over the case of an Australian filmmaker who has been languishing in a Cambodian jail on spying charges for several months.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has intervened in the case of an Australian filmmaker who has been languishing in a Cambodian jail on spying charges for several months.

Key points:

  • James Ricketson was arrested for flying a drone above a political rally
  • He was charged with espionage and faces 10 years in jail if convicted
  • ABC understands the Foreign Minister has written to her Cambodian counterpart

James Ricketson was arrested last year after flying a drone above a political rally in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

He has since been charged with espionage and could face 10 years in jail if convicted.

His family has said he is being held in "incredibly cramped" conditions, with 140 other people in his cell.

The ABC understands Ms Bishop has now written a letter to her Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn raising concerns about his detention.

The Australian Government has been giving Mr Ricketson consular support, but this is the first time the Foreign Minister has formally made representations to the Cambodian Government about his case.

More than 60,000 people have already signed a petition calling on Ms Bishop to intervene and help to free the 68-year-old filmmaker.

Mr Ricketson's family are worried his health could rapidly deteriorate in jail.

The Federal Government has been wary of inflaming tensions with Cambodia over Mr Ricketson's detention.

Officials have been working on the case behind the scenes, but they also worry that publicly criticising his arrest might infuriate Phnom Penh and damage Mr Ricketson's chances of freedom.

Ms Bishop's decision to intervene may signal the Government has concluded that it will need to apply direct political pressure if it wants to convince Cambodia to free him.

The Federal Government has also been concerned about Cambodia's broader drift towards authoritarianism under Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

The regime has moved to crack down on dissent in the lead-up to elections later this year.

Two Cambodian reporters previously employed by Radio Free Asia were also charged with espionage last year, and several independent media outlets have been shut down.