Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Laos: Pregnancy means Briton won't face execution

In this undated photo of Samantha Orobator, the British woman who is accused of trafficking heroin in Laos, it is announced Tuesday May 5, 2009, that she will no longer face the death penalty because she is pregnant and the country's law bans executing pregnant prisoners, says a spokesman for its government. Oribator was arrested in August 2008, and will stand trial next week according to Khenthong Nuanthasing of the Lao Foreign Ministry, so that an "appropriate lawyer" could be found to defend her. (AP Photo/ PA )

Seattle Post-Intelligencer


BANGKOK -- A pregnant British woman accused of trafficking heroin in Laos will not face the death penalty because the law bans executing expectant convicts, a government spokesman said Tuesday.

The trial of 20-year-old Samantha Orobator would not be held until next week so that an "appropriate lawyer" could be found to defend her, Foreign Ministry spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing said. It had been expected to start this week.

"It might take some time," Khenthong said by phone from the Laotian capital Vientiane, adding his government would try its best to expedite the case. He said the Justice Ministry was compiling a list of lawyers - who must be Lao nationals - from which she could choose.

Orobator was arrested in August and charged with trying to smuggle 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in her luggage.

Anyone caught in possession of over 1.1 pounds (500 grams) is subject to the death penalty, Khenthong said. "But there is another provision of criminal law ... that the death penalty will not apply to pregnant women."

The circumstances of Orobator's pregnancy remained unclear, though Khenthong said she told authorities in an interview after her arrest that she had become pregnant by her boyfriend.

The British legal charity Reprieve said Orobator was five months pregnant, but because she had no access to counsel they could not confirm that. A doctor sent by the Australian Embassy who visited Orobator in prison in March told Reprieve that she is due to give birth in September.

Reprieve issued a statement Tuesday saying its representative, Anna Morris, had been barred from entering Phonthong prison despite having been scheduled to meet Orobator.

"I am deeply frustrated by the lack of access to this vulnerable young woman. This is preventing Reprieve from obtaining firsthand knowledge of her welfare and how she is being treated in prison," the statement quoted Morris as saying. "We urge the Lao authorities to allow us access to speak to Samantha as promised, to appoint her a Laotian lawyer and to conduct a fair and open trial."

In a response e-mailed to The Associated Press, Khenthong said, "the Lao Government never denied ... access to Samantha," and that the group should recognize Laos "has its own law and rules" for seeing foreign prisoners.

Morris said Reprieve made a formal request to see Orobator through Britain's Foreign Office before she left for Laos. The British vice consul sent from neighboring Thailand also made formal requests on its behalf to the Lao Foreign Ministry, she said.

Khenthong said Orobator's trial will be open for all parties concerned, particularly the British consul-general and officials from the Australian Embassy, which handles British interests in Laos. Britain has no embassy in Laos.

Orobator had been in jail for months before the British government learned of her detention. British diplomats and doctors have since visited her, according to the British Foreign Office.

Laos is a one-party state and rights groups say the judicial system is beholden to the communist regime that has ruled since 1975.

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