UK National in Lao Trial

A Nigerian-born British woman, now facing a possible death sentence in Laos for alleged drug-smuggling, has been held for months.
2009-05-04
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Lao police officers listen to official speeches in Vientiane, Dec. 2, 2005.
Lao police officers listen to official speeches in Vientiane, Dec. 2, 2005.
AFP
UPDATED May 5

BANGKOK— A pregnant British national accused of trafficking heroin in Laos won't face the death penalty because the law bans executing expectant convicts, a government spokesman said Tuesday.

The trial for Samantha Orobator, 20, won't be held until next week so that an "appropriate lawyer" may be found to defend her, Foreign Ministry spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing said. The trial had been expected to start this week.

"It might take some time," Khenthong told the Associated Press. He said the Justice Ministry was compiling a list of lawyers—who must be Lao nationals—from which she could choose.

Orobator was arrested last August at Wattay airport in the Lao capital, Vientiane, after she was allegedly caught with 680 g (1.5 lbs) of heroin. She is now pregnant, and how she became pregnant in prison isn’t clear.

“This woman was arrested for smuggling drugs out of Laos. Since her arrest, she has been treated according to Lao law. She will be brought to court soon this week but the exact date or day is still unknown,” Nuanthasing said in an interview.

Anna Morris, a lawyer for the legal rights charity Reprieve, flew into Laos and said she was concerned that Orobator hadn’t been permitted to meet with a court-appointed defense lawyer. Morris has said she hoped to be allowed to attend the trial although she wouldn’t be able to represent Orobator.

She understood that Orobator would not meet her court-appointed Laotian lawyer until the day of the trial, which would make it difficult for her to mount a proper defense, she said. It is understood that Orobator told the authorities that the drugs found in her case were not hers.

Orobator traveled last July to the Netherlands and went on to Thailand and Laos from there.

Bill Rammell, the British Foreign Office minister, said that he would raise the case with the Laotian Deputy Prime Minister when they meet in Britain on Thursday.

Harsh conditions

Amnesty International, in its 2008 review of human rights around the world, said that while the death penalty remains in force in Laos, the last known executions there occurred in 1989.

It also said that while independent human rights monitors were barred from visiting Lao prisons, “reports continued of ill-treatment, lack of food, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care.”

The U.S. State Department, in its 2008 review of human rights worldwide, said “[Lao] prison conditions varied widely but in general were harsh and occasionally life-threatening. Prisoners in larger, state-operated facilities in Vientiane generally fared better than those in provincial prisons.”

“Credible reports indicated that ethnic minority prisoners and some foreign prisoners were treated particularly harshly,” it said.

“Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on staff, medical facilities were extremely poor, and medical treatment for serious ailments was unavailable.”

Original reporting by Manichan Phimphachanh for RFA's Lao service. Service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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