A pregnant Briton sentenced to life imprisonment in Laos for trafficking heroin flew home Thursday to serve the remainder of her sentence, just weeks before she was due to give birth.
Samantha Orobator, 20, was sentenced in June after pleading guilty to drug trafficking. Police said they found 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in 68 capsules on Orobator's body when she was arrested at Vientiane airport last August on her way to Australia.
Her case drew widespread attention in Britain over fears that she could be executed by a firing squad and reports — later discounted by her mother — that she was raped in prison. Her mother, Jane, has said the father is not a Lao prison official but has refused to divulge his identity.
Heroin trafficking is punishable in Laos by death, but Orobator was spared because the law does not allow the execution of pregnant women.
Under a pact signed in May by Laos and Britain, Orobator can be extradited to serve her time in Britain, though it is unlikely she will serve a life sentence. The two countries signed an agreement Thursday paving the way for her transfer and she was handed over to British authorities.
"Samantha's transfer today would ensure that she will give birth in the U.K.," Quinton Quayle, the British ambassador to Laos, told reporters before the flight left. "We believe that this is the best outcome for all concerned, in particular her unborn child."
Orobator refused to speak to reporters as she boarded the flight to Bangkok accompanied by Quayle and several other British diplomats. She was to transfer planes in Bangkok and fly onto London.
British officials had been pressing for the transfer, concerned that she was in the late stages of her pregnancy. She will be 36 weeks pregnant on Aug. 12, after which she would likely be unable to take an international flight.
According to Lao officials, Nigerian-born Orobator initially told authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy. It was not until March 2 that a hospital test showed she was pregnant, police said.
Quayle told Sky News television that during her trial prosecutors read out a statement from Orobator in which she claimed to have artificially inseminated herself with semen from fellow British prisoner John Watson.
British authorities have asked that Watson be transferred back to Britain but the request is pending.
Orobator's mother, who lives in Dublin, fought to have her daughter transferred out of Laos since she was arrested. She told BBC television Thursday that she was relieved her daughter would be coming home.
"We're very happy she's coming back to the U.K. to have her baby here," she said.
Rights groups say Laos' judicial system is beholden to the Communist regime that has ruled the country since 1975.
The country lies in the opium-producing Golden Triangle bordering Myanmar and Laos. Although production of narcotics has fallen in the region in recent years, it is still a major source of illicit drugs.