Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 11:57 UK

Pregnant prisoner meets UK lawyer

Samantha Orobator
Samantha Orobator is due to give birth in September

A pregnant Briton facing a possible death sentence in Laos if convicted of drug smuggling has been allowed to see a UK lawyer for the first time.

Anna Morris, of legal charity Reprieve, met Samantha Orobator, 20, from south London, in Laos on Tuesday.

But Reprieve said open communication was "impossible" due to the presence of Lao government officials.

The UK Foreign Office confirmed that British officials were also present but would not give any further details.

Miss Orobator faces trial accused of possessing 1.5lb (680g) of heroin when arrested at Wattay airport last August.

Despite suggestions her trial was to be brought forward, the Lao authorities have not set a date for it to begin.

Ms Morris said the presence of 10 senior Lao government officials at the meeting prevented her from discussing the case within the privilege of a client-lawyer relationship.

Reprieve said the meeting took place in a boardroom of a government building rather than in Phongthong prison where Miss Orobator has been held for nine months.

The charity had been hoping to assess the conditions in the prison.

'Coping'

Ms Morris said: "Samantha appeared nervous in this formal environment with so many people present, no doubt it was quite intimidating for her.

"In the circumstances, I was not prepared to ask her the questions I had envisaged regarding the case.

"To do so in the presence of members of the Lao government would have been a breach of my professional duty to Samantha and my ethical code as a barrister.

"Samantha said that she was coping but that she was anxious about when the trial would take place.

"Unfortunately, I was not able to give her any reassurance in this respect as the Lao government have still not informed us of a trial date."

She added: "Samantha said that the baby was excited and kicking.

"Despite her small frame, she was visibly pregnant and sat with her hand protectively over her stomach."

Miss Orobator reportedly became pregnant in prison in December.

Reprieve said Ms Morris had asked for further, private access but was told that this would be the only contact that she would be permitted before the trial.

The Foreign Office said it was unable to go into any details about what happened at the meeting due to consular confidentiality, but said it was "continuing to press the Lao government to help ensure that she receives a fair trial".

In Laos, anyone caught with more than 1lb (500g) of heroin faces a mandatory death sentence.

However a Lao government spokesman previously told the BBC that a pregnant woman could receive a lesser sentence.

Khenthong Nuanthasing said: "We would not sentence a pregnant woman to the death penalty."

At least 39 people have been sentenced to death in Laos since 2003 but Amnesty International reported last year that no-one had been executed in in the south-east Asian country since 1989.

Reprieve said Miss Orobator's mother has travelled to Laos and the charity said it hoped that she would be allowed to visit her daughter in prison.



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