CNRP President Sam Rainsy has offered to go to jail if his imprisoned colleagues are released, a suggestion the ruling CPP promptly rejected.
Speaking to reporters on Monday outside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the offer was relayed to detained party lawmakers and activists locked up inside, but they asked instead for Mr. Rainsy to continue his work abroad—living in Paris to avoid a two-year prison sentence here.
“He said if he could return now and ensure all activists are released from prison, he would go to prison,” Mr. Sovann said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan shot down Mr. Rainsy’s offer. “He’s speaking like he doesn’t know the law,” he said.
“They’re individual cases. We can’t make exchanges,” Mr. Eysan said. “He was convicted and the case was closed.”
Mr. Sovann reiterated that Mr. Rainsy was planning a return to the country ahead of upcoming elections—commune elections are scheduled for next year and a national vote is slated for 2018—whether or not a political resolution was reached to drop legal cases against the opposition.
“We can’t say there are free and fair elections while the leaders of the opposition party are unable to participate in political activities,” he said.
Eighteen CNRP figures, including two lawmakers, have been jailed since May last year. A number of rights workers, including an NGO worker-turned-election official, have also been imprisoned. CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was handed a five-month prison sentence last month over a case widely considered to be politically motivated.
Mr. Sokha has been living in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh for almost five months, in what he has described as an act meant to symbolize the oppression of the opposition.
In an interview with Channel News Asia earlier this month, Mr. Sokha said he would like to see Mr. Rainsy return.
“If Sam Rainsy came to be with me, it would be better than me being alone,” he said. “But if he does not decide to come back, we can still run the party without him.”