Laotian Government Says Samantha Orobator Is Safe (For Now)

Samantha Orobator, the pregnant Briton being held in prison in Laos on charges of drug smuggling, may reportedly escape the death penalty - but only because she's pregnant.

As mentioned yesterday, Orobator was arrested in August, 2008 at the Wattay Airport. It is believed that she was trying to leave Laos for the UK, and officials say that Orobator was carrying 680g of heroin (Laotian law requires the execution of anyone caught with over 500g of heroin). Like everything else in this case, Orobator's guilt is unclear. It has been reported that Orobator claims she was forced into carrying the drugs, while the Telegraph said yesterday that Orobator denies the drugs were hers.

Orobator has still not met with a lawyer, and the legal charity Reprieve says that they have been refused access to Orobator. Anna Morris arrived in Laos on Sunday, yet was barred from speaking with her and told that Orobator will be appointed a local lawyer. Morris said: "She hasn't been appointed a lawyer yet and that has been our concern. We are concerned that any hearing may be quite quick in comparison to what will happen in other countries."

Laotian officials have claimed that they will not execute the pregnant woman, because it is against the law to kill expectant prisoners. Laos government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told the BBC: "We would not sentence a pregnant woman to the death penalty." Claire Algar, a lawyer from Reprieve, said she is "encouraged" by this news, but adds, "She will only remain pregnant for the next however-many months." (As Amnesty International reported last year, no one has been executed in Laos since 1989, although, like everything else in this story, there has been a conflicting report that the last execution occurred in 1990. Furthermore, the British government hopes that it will be able to reach a prisoner exchange agreement with Laos: Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell is expected to raise the issue on Thursday when he meets with the Laotian deputy prime minister.)

The circumstance of Orobator's pregnancy is still a mystery. Some have reported that she became pregnant in December, while other sources place the date of conception somewhere in January. Laotian officials claim that Orobator was pregnant when she was arrested, however, they also say that she lost the fetus during her time in prison. Nuanthasing said officials are investigating Orobator's current pregnancy and also claims, in a response emailed to the Associated Press, that "the Lao Government never denied ... access to Samantha" and that the group should recognize Laos "has its own law and rules."

The stay of execution, of course, raises some difficult questions: isn't there something slightly unsettling about the logic behind the law, which essentially states that Orobator's life is only worth saving because she is pregnant? That the fetus she is carrying in her womb has a greater value than her own person? And, as Algar points out, she will not be pregnant forever: This is only a temporary "fix", and one that continues to ignore Orobator's rights while granting certain privileges to the contents of her uterus.

Laos Mum-To-Be Denied UK Lawyer [BBC]
Pregnant Briton To Escape Death Penalty In Laos [CNN]
Mother Of British Woman Facing Death Penalty In Laos Pleads For Her Release [Telegraph]
Laos: Pregnancy Means Briton Won't Face Execution [AP]

Earlier: Pregnant Briton May Face Firing Squad in Laos