Laos Spares Life of Pregnant, Black British Woman

Published May 5, 2009

A pregnant, young, Black British woman will not be sentenced to execution by firing squad by a Laotian court for allegedly bringing illegal drugs into the nation, as originally feared.

The country's laws prohibit pregnant prisoners from being executed, the Laos government says.

Samantha Orobator, 20, is accused of carrying more than a pound of heroin in a nation with no tolerance for illegal drugs, the leader of a London-based human rights group Reprieve told CNN.

"For that amount of heroin the sentence is normally the death penalty," Reprieve lawyer Anna Morris told CNN by phone from Vientiane, the Laotian capital.

Orobator was arrested Aug. 5, according to Khenthong Nuanthaising, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Orobator’s mother, Jane, learned of her daughter’s pregnancy from the British Foreign Office, which as been monitoring the case, more than four months after she was taken into custody.   Speaking to CNN by phone, Jane Orobator said she was stunned to find that Samantha was in Laos. 

"I don't know" what she was doing there, she said. "The last time she spoke with me, she said she was on holiday in London and she would come to see us in Dublin before returning to the U.K. in July,” adding that “she is not the type of person who would be involved in drugs."

Reprieve wants to know about Samantha Orobator’s health, especially considering that the defendant became pregnant during her incarceration.

"She became pregnant in prison,” Morris said. “We are concerned that it may not have been consensual, and we are concerned that someone who finds herself in prison at 20 is subject to exploitation," she said, noting that she is due to give birth in September.

Morris said she is the first British lawyer who has requested to see Orobator.

"She needs to have a local lawyer appointed to her. We are pressing very hard for the local authorities to appoint one." But, in the Laotian justice system, Morris said, the defendant generally gets an attorney just days before the trial.

In a statement released Saturday, Bill Rammell, British Foreign Office minister, said, "The British Government is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. We have made the Laos authorities aware of this at the highest levels in Samantha's case. We are paying close attention to her welfare and are in regular contact with the Laotian authorities about her case. British Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, have visited her six times since her arrest.” He also said that “Britain's consular representatives in Laos, the Australian Embassy, including the Australian Embassy doctor, have visited Samantha 10 times on our behalf.”

Written by BET.com Staff

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