British officials to meet woman facing death penalty

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The Independent Online

A pregnant woman facing the death penalty in Laos will meet British consular officials today amid growing fears she may not receive a fair trial after being imprisoned on drug smuggling charges.

Samantha Orobator, 20, from south London, was arrested nine months ago at the country's largest airport from where she was trying to return home. In January, while still in prison, she became pregnant in circumstances which have led to claims that she may have been raped.

It was initially thought the Briton, who is accused of smuggling just over 500g of heroin, might face trial as early as yesterday. In Laos, smuggling more than 500g of the drug carries a mandatory death sentence.

Representatives of the legal charity Reprieve publicised her case and over the weekend her mother Jane Orobator, a student at Trinity College Dublin, made an emotional plea for her daughter's release. Yesterday the Laotian government insisted the trial would be carried out fairly but was unable to confirm when it would happen, other than saying it was expected this week.

Today the Londoner will be visited by the vice-consul from Bangkok – the nearest British embassy to Laos – and Anna Morris, a lawyer from Reprieve. Ms Morris said she was concerned that Ms Orobator had not been assigned a defence lawyer, and that any hearing "may be quite quick in comparison to what happens in other countries".

British officials have only been able to visit Ms Orobator for 20 minutes once a month, after learning of her arrest after she had already spent many months in jail.

Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said he will raise the case with the Laotian Deputy Prime Minister when they meet in the UK on Thursday. He said: "The British Government is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. We have made the Laotian authorities aware of this at the highest levels in Samantha's case."

Ms Orobator was born in Nigeria but grew up in Camberwell and Peckham, from the age of eight. Phonthong prison in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, where Ms Orobator is being held, has a reputation for beatings. Cells measuring four square metres are used to house up to six prisoners and the daily ration reportedly consists of two bowls of pig-fat water and rice.