BANGKOK—A British national held on drug-smuggling charges in Laos could avoid serving her sentence or facing the death penalty there under a new prisoner-transfer accord between London and Vientiane.
Samantha Orobator, 20, was arrested last August at Wattay airport in the Lao capital, Vientiane, after she was allegedly caught with 680 g (1.5 lbs) of heroin. She is now five months pregnant, and how she became pregnant in prison isn’t clear.
Lao Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, in London for talks, told British ministers that Orobator wouldn't receive a death sentence if convicted.
"I would like to thank the Lao authorities and reiterate that we opposed the death penalty in all cases," Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said in a statement.
"The deputy prime minister told me that the Lao government would consider Samantha eligible for transfer to the U.K. to serve out any sentence once the prisoner transfer agreement comes into effect," he added.
Foreign officials said such agreements generally have to go through the parliament before they take effect.
Orobator, born in Nigeria and a naturalized Briton, traveled last July to the Netherlands and went on to Thailand and Laos from there.
Amnesty International, in its 2008 review of human rights around the world, said that while the death penalty remains in force in Laos, the last known executions there occurred in 1989.
It also said that while independent human rights monitors were barred from visiting Lao prisons, “reports continued of ill-treatment, lack of food, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care.”
The U.S. State Department, in its 2008 review of human rights worldwide, said “[Lao] prison conditions varied widely but in general were harsh and occasionally life-threatening. Prisoners in larger, state-operated facilities in Vientiane generally fared better than those in provincial prisons.”
“Credible reports indicated that ethnic minority prisoners and some foreign prisoners were treated particularly harshly,” it said.
“Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on staff, medical facilities were extremely poor, and medical treatment for serious ailments was unavailable.”
Original reporting by Manichan Phimphachanh for RFA's Lao service. Additional reporting by news agencies. Service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.