Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Laos drug Briton Samantha Orobator has jail term cut

Samantha Orobator
Orobator gave birth to a baby girl after becoming pregnant in jail

A British woman serving a life sentence in the UK for drug smuggling in Laos has had her prison sentence reduced.

Samantha Orobator, 21, of London, lost a High Court challenge against her continued detention but had the minimum term she must serve cut to 18 months.

She claimed she was forced to carry heroin after being raped and should be released because her conviction was a "flagrant denial of justice".

She was sentenced to death but her life was spared after she became pregnant.

'Show trial'

Her lawyers, who argued her human rights had been breached, will now apply to the parole board for her release because she has already spent more than 18 months in jail.

Orobator is currently in Holloway prison in north London along with her four-month-old baby daughter.

She was caught with 1.5lb (680g) of heroin at Wattay airport in the capital of Laos, Vientiane, last August, as she tried to board a flight.

Her lawyers said she was forced to carry it under "extreme duress", but they were never able to offer that in mitigation during her trial.

Edward Fitzgerald QC said two Nigerian men coerced her by taking her passport and threatening to kill her if she did not co-operate.

"They further intimidated her by assaulting and raping her," he added.

It is important not to jeopardise or undermine the treaties for the repatriation of prisoners
High Court judgement

Mr Fitzgerald said the case could be described as a show trial and therefore any period of detention based on it would be "unlawful".

Lord Justice Dyson, sitting with Mr Justice Tugendhat, said he was "in no doubt that, by the standards of our justice system, the claimant was treated unjustly in Laos".

He said that if she had been tried in the same way in the UK, a complaint under the Human Rights Act would have been successful.

But the judge dismissed the application, ruling that her case did not satisfy the test of "a flagrant denial" of justice and therefore her continued detention in Britain was not unlawful.

"The test is rightly set very high," he said. "That is because it is important not to jeopardise or undermine the treaties for the repatriation of prisoners which the UK now has with many countries, so that those who are convicted abroad can serve their sentences here.

"[If convicted persons] were easily able to obtain their liberty by challenging their convictions, there would be a grave danger that these important treaties would be set at nought.

"That would be highly regrettable."

Orobator claims she was raped and made pregnant by one of the Nigerian men, but miscarried after "mistreatment" by Lao officials.

The court was told she then became pregnant again in jail by "clandestine artificial insemination", reportedly with sperm from a fellow British inmate.

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