UK Woman Gets Life

A Lao court spares the life a pregnant British woman convicted of drug smuggling.
2009-06-03
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Samantha Orobator, shown in an undated photo provided May 4, 2009 by the advocacy group Reprieve.
Samantha Orobator, shown in an undated photo provided May 4, 2009 by the advocacy group Reprieve.
AFP

BANGKOK—A court in Laos has sentenced a pregnant British national to life in prison for drug smuggling, in a capital case that drew attention around the world, according to the British embassy.

Samantha Orobator, 20, was convicted Wednesday in the Lao capital, Vientiane, of trafficking 680 g (1.5 lbs) of heroin when she tried to board a plane at Wattay airport last August, an embassy spokesman said.

“It's a life sentence,” he added.

Lao law allows the death penalty for anyone found guilty of smuggling more than 500 grams of heroin.

Witnesses said the trial lasted about 3-1/2 hours and that the three judges assigned to the case reached a decision in just over 30 minutes.

Orobator was provided with a Lao lawyer and simultaneous English translation of court proceedings, the witnesses said.

Delivering on promises

Lao Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell last month in London that Orobator wouldn't receive a death sentence if convicted.

Rammell also said the Lao government would consider Orobator eligible for transfer to the U.K. to serve out any sentence under a newly signed prisoner transfer accord.

The embassy spokesman said Orobator has 21 days to appeal her conviction.

Lao officials are expected to speak with her to determine whether she plans to appeal or to apply to serve her sentence in Britain.

Orobator, born in Nigeria and a naturalized Briton, traveled last July to the Netherlands and went on to Thailand and Laos from there.

She is now six months pregnant, after allegedly impregnating herself with the sperm of another prisoner to avoid the death penalty, according to a report by the official Vientiane Times.

Ill-treatment reported

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. Additional reporting by news agencies. Service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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