Legal challenge over 'unsafe' Laos drugs conviction

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The Independent Online

A woman jailed in Laos on drugs charges who returned to the United Kingdom to serve her sentence launched a legal challenge today against her conviction.

Samantha Orobator, from Peckham, south London, was given a life sentence after being found guilty of smuggling heroin.

The pregnant 20-year-old returned home earlier this month and was sent to Holloway Prison.

Today her lawyers said she had been subjected to a "disgraceful show trial", denied access to lawyers, and prevented from defending herself.

The action, launched by solicitors Bindmans and legal charity Reprieve, argues her conviction is "manifestly unsafe" and should not be recognised here.

Orobator's solicitor, Rhona Friedman, said: "Here we have a flagrant denial of justice to a British citizen abroad.

"Samantha was subjected to a sham legal process that makes a mockery of justice.

"The Laos conviction is manifestly unsafe and should not be recognised in this country."

A preliminary hearing of the case will take place at the High Court a week today.

Orobator's lawyers will argue she is being held unlawfully, and ask for a judicial review of the Government order keeping her in prison.

Reprieve executive director Clare Algar said she was being held to "placate" the Laos regime.

She said: "As a vulnerable young woman far from home, Samantha was exploited by a government determined to convict her and uninterested in her defence.

"The Lao government's handling of this case revealed their contempt for truth, decency and legal rights.

"We hope the British Government recognises that Samantha's life must not be thrown away simply to placate that regime."

Orobator was arrested on August 5 last year as she tried to board a flight for Australia with, it is claimed, 1.5lb (680g) of heroin in capsules on her body.

She faced death by firing squad until it was revealed she was pregnant. Laotian law states pregnant women cannot be executed.

While in prison she was forced to make statements praising the authorities in the South-East Asian country, while being denied proper access to a lawyer, she says.

After the trial, she was allowed to return home to serve her sentence under a prisoner transfer agreement.

On her arrival at Heathrow on August 7, she said she was "enormously relieved and happy to be back on British soil".

Orobator's child is due next month, but it is unclear how she became pregnant while being held in an all-female prison.