An Australian filmmaker says he still loves Cambodia – the nation that accused him of spying and locked him up in a notorious prison.
James Ricketson, who landed exhausted and in shock in Sydney on Sunday night, is already planning a return to the Asian country as soon as he can.
The 69-year-old endured more than a year in a crowded Phnom Penh prison on spying allegations he long denied before receiving a royal pardon on Friday.
“I love Cambodia, I’ve always loved Cambodia (and) I don’t love Cambodia any less now because of what has happened,” Ricketson told reporters at Sydney airport.
“If anything I love it more.”
The filmmaker was arrested at a political rally in June 2017, accused of spying and sentenced on August 31 in a trial that was widely criticised by human rights activists and politicians in Australia.
He described his time in prison as a “lovers’ quarrel” amid a “20-year love affair” with Cambodia.
“I’m looking forward to going back and doing all I can to help poor Cambodian families get houses and in any other way I can,” he said.
Ricketson said there was “room for improvement” in the way the Australian government handled his case.
But he declined to elaborate on Sunday evening.
“I do have a good story to tell but now, at the airport, is not the right time to tell it.”
His family is expected to address media on Monday.
Daughter Roxanne Holmes, who along with nephew Bim Ricketson greeted the filmmaker at Sydney airport, said it was wonderful to have her dad back.
“We’re all really elated and excited and we all just want him to get healthy,” she said.
Ricketson used some of the flight home catching up on recent world events.
“I managed to read a few magazines and to find out about a whole bunch of children who were trapped in a cave somewhere in Thailand,” he said.
“I haven’t seen a movie or television or nothing for 15 months.”
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne thanked her Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn for his government’s positive consideration of Ricketson’s petition.
Australian Associated Press