Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 13:02 UK

Laos prisoner 'denied UK lawyer'

Samantha Orobator
Samantha Orobator was born in Nigeria but grew up in London

A pregnant Briton facing a possible death sentence in Laos if convicted of drug smuggling has reportedly been refused access to a lawyer.

Legal charity Reprieve said a planned meeting with Samantha Orobator, 20, of south London, had been blocked.

She faces trial this week, accused of possessing 1.5lb (680g) of heroin when arrested at Wattay airport last August.

A Laos government spokesman told the BBC a pregnant woman would not be sentenced to death.

In Laos, anyone caught with more than 1lb (500g) of heroin faces a mandatory death sentence and at least 39 people have been sentenced to death in the south-east Asian country since 2003.

However, human rights watchdog Amnesty International reported last year that no-one had been executed in Laos since 1989.

And Laos government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told the BBC Miss Orobator's pregnancy would prevent her execution.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

"We would not sentence a pregnant woman to the death penalty," he said.

Mr Nuanthasing said the trial would be conducted fairly but was unable to confirm a date.

Miss Orobator has been held at Phonthong prison, where she reportedly became pregnant in December.

The Foreign Office said the vice-consul from Bangkok, in Thailand, had been allowed into Phonthong prison to speak to her on Tuesday. It was the seventh visit from UK officials.

A spokesman was unable to comment on Miss Orobator's condition but said: "We are paying very close attention to her welfare."

Claire Algar, from Reprieve, said she was "encouraged" by the assertion that an expectant mother would not be shot but added: "She will only remain pregnant for the next however-many months."

She also said doctors and the UK Foreign Office had said Miss Orobator had become pregnant while in jail. The Laotian government has claimed she had been pregnant when arrested.

Jane Orobator
Jane Orobator has appealed for her daughter's release

Reprieve says its human rights lawyer was refused access to Miss Orobator, without explanation. The charity is urging the authorities to ensure a fair trial.

Ms Algar said: "It's very necessary that Samantha meet with a laywer and, we would say, both with a British lawyer and Laotian lawyer."

She said she was "extremely concerned" about Miss Orobator's welfare.

"People who have left [the prison] in the past have spoken about malnutrition, that they haven't received water regularly, there are no beds on which one can lie and they have also spoken of abuse," she added.

The Foreign Office has reiterated the government's opposition to the death penalty "in all circumstances" and said it took "every opportunity to make representations to the Lao authorities about our opposition to the death penalty".

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell is due to raise the case with the Laotian deputy prime minister when they meet in the UK on Thursday.

They are expected to discuss a prisoner exchange agreement between the two countries and it is hoped Miss Orobator might be transferred to the UK as a result.

Miss Orobator was born in Nigeria and lived in south London from the age of eight. Her father lives in Nigeria and her mother and three sisters live in the Irish Republic.

She had been on holiday in Thailand and the Netherlands before travelling to Laos.

Her mother Jane Orobator said: "I'm just appealing to the British government, to the Laos authorities, to just please release her. They should just bring her back to me."

Mrs Orobator added that she has no idea why her daughter was in Laos and had last heard from her in July, when she was in the Netherlands.

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Samantha Orobator has been held since August



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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Laos
29 Sep 11 |  Country profiles

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