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Group urges Brown to fight for Laos prisoner

Human rights campaigners urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown today to do what he could to secure the release of a pregnant British woman being held on drugs charges in a Laos prison.

Samantha Orobator, 20, potentially faces the death penalty if found guilty of smuggling heroin at an upcoming trial. She has been held in a prison in Laos since her arrest at Wattay airport in August 2008 and is five months pregnant.

Laos' deputy prime minister has flown to London for talks with foreign office officials on the issue, with Britain, which has long opposed the death penalty, insistent that no such punishment should be handed down if she is found guilty.

Reprieve, a prison rights charity that campaigns against capital punishment, will deliver a letter to Brown's office today calling on the prime minister to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on the Asian country's government.

As well as insisting that Orobator will not face the death penalty if convicted, Reprieve is pushing for her to have access to a lawyer, which has so far been denied.

"Samantha has still not seen a state appointed Lao lawyer, nor does she know when her trial will take place, although it is thought to be scheduled for next week," Reprieve said in a statement.

"Samantha is five months pregnant and enduring the most stressful of circumstances. After the revelation by the Lao government yesterday that she has already suffered one miscarriage in prison, Reprieve's main concern is for her health and that of her unborn child."

Reprieve wants Britain to sign a prisoner exchange treaty with Laos which could potentially see Orobator returned to Britain even if she is convicted.

Even though drug smuggling potentially carries the death penalty in Laos, those familiar with the country's judicial system say capital punishment has rarely been carried out in recent years, even if the sentence has been passed.