Pregnant British woman gets life sentence in Laos

June 3rd, 2009 - 8:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, June 3 (DPA) A Laos court Wednesday sentenced British national Samantha Orobator to life in prison for drug trafficking, mitigated from the death penalty on account of the defendant’s pregnancy, diplomats said.
“It was a life sentence,” British embassy spokesman Daniel Painter said by telephone from Vientiane. “We are currently seeking access to Samantha to discuss her options,” he said.

Orobator, 20, was arrested while boarding a plane in Vientiane last August with 680 grams of heroin allegedly hidden beneath her clothes.

In Laos, the maximum sentence for drug trafficking is death by firing squad. But under Lao law, a pregnant woman is exempt from capital punishment.

Under a prisoner exchange agreement signed between Britain and Laos May 7, there is the likelihood that Orobator will be able to serve most of her sentence in a British jail in the future.

But the agreement still needs the approval of the British Parliament and the Lao National Assembly, diplomats said.

At the trial, the prosecution and judges asked Orobator if she was guilty of various charges and she replied yes. The judges sentenced her to life in prison, reduced from the death sentence because of Orobator’s pregnancy.

Orobator’s sentencing has been delayed by an investigation into how she was impregnated in the allegedly all-female Phongthonmg Prison.

On Tuesday, the government-run Vientiane Times suggested that Orobator had secretly impregnated herself with sperm from another prisoner.

The government has denied claims that she was raped by a guard.

Details about Orobator’s arrest, prison pregnancy and trial have been difficult to obtain in Laos, which opted for a communist system in 1975 and has maintained strict controls over the press.

Laos, a country half the size of France with a population of less than six million, is the only country in South-East Asia that prohibits foreign media from setting up permanent offices in the capital.

Little is known about what led Orobator, a Nigerian-born British citizen described by friends as extremely bright with ambitions to become a doctor, to fly to Thailand and then to Laos where she spent five days before her arrest at Wattaya Airport Aug 5 last year.

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