From Andrew Drummond
Vientiane, Laos, May 5th 2009
The Communist Laos government postponed the trial of Briton
Samantha Orobator late today after denying access to a Human Rights
lawyer sent to prepare her defence.
But a British Consular official Paul Lawrence, from the British
Embassy in Bangkok was allowed access to the 20-yr-old woman, whose
drug trafficking offence carries the mandatory death sentence.
A British Embassy spokesman in Bangkok said: 'A Consular official was
allowed access together with a doctor to visit Samantha Orobator in
prison. A lawyer from 'Reprieve' was not allowed and we are awaiting to
here more on that.'
Khenthong Nuanthasing, a spokesman for Laos Foreign Ministry, said the
trial had been postponed so that an appropriate lawyer could be found to
represent Ms. Orobator . No new date was given. He was surprised ,he
said, that a lawyer from 'Reprieve' had not been able to visit the
He added that Laos does not execute pregnant prisoners.
The trial was delayed as several news organisations arrived in the
Laotian capital, where Ms. Orabator ( whose mother is a student at
Trinity College, Dublin) is said to be living in a prison where medieval
style torture methods are used.
Samantha Orobator, brought up in London, but born in Nigeria, is charged
with the trafficking of over half a kilo of heroin, which carries the
mandatory death sentence in this communist People's Republic.
Following publicity in Britain, prisoners in Phonthong Foreigners Prison
in Vientiane, reported that a team of Laotian police visited her
yesterday in jail.
A spokesman for Reprieve said: ' Despite being scheduled to meet with
Samantha Orobator today, lawyer Anna Morris has been refused access to
the prison. No explanation has been received from the Lao Authorities
as to why the meeting was cancelled.
'Samantha Orobator, 20, was arrested at Wattay Airport on 6th August
2008 on a drug smuggling charge. Since then she has been held in the
notoriously abusive Phonthong prison and has never seen a lawyer.
Reprieve was told last Thursday that her trial will take place this
Anna Morris said: 'I am deeply frustrated by the lack of access to this
vulnerable young woman. This is preventing Reprieve from obtaining first
hand knowledge of her welfare and how she is being treated in prison'.
On Thursday Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell will make
representations to Laos Foreign Minister who is making an official visit
to the U.K. expressing concern over the death penalty, Ms. Orobator's
ability to get a fair trial and the health of her unborn baby.
In Dublin Samantha's mother Jane said: 'It's impossible that my daughter
could have done such a thing voluntarily. She does not even drink.'
Phonthong Prison, a collection of shabby huts, behind walls razor wire,
and watch-towers. A new prison is being built to replace it.
The current prison, said Kay Danes, founder of the Foreign Prisoners
Support Service, is little more than a torture camp in both the physical
and mental, sense. The torture included punishing prisoners in
Mrs. Danes founded FPSS after her own experience in Ponthong Prison
where she was jailed with her husband after being involved in a company
dispute in the capital.
She said she herself was roughed up and her husband 'got the wooden blocks on his legs and was quite brutally intimidated.'
She said she also saw other people have their genitals burned in front
of her and that one man had his head stuck in a bucket of sewage.
'Reprieve' also claimed that a prisoner, believed to be Briton
Michael Newman, wrote to say that he had been repeatedly beaten and
that police had placed a board on his feet and stood on it for more than
five hours, so that he could no longer walk. He also said that he had
been beaten in the chest and was coughing blood, that his penis had been
burned and he was 'dying slowly'.
Photographs have been smuggled out of the jail showing a black African
drug smuggler in the stocks. Michael Newman, who died in Phonthbong jail
last year, allegedly without access to any medical treatment, was also
known to have been put in the stocks. He had been convicted of charges
relating to a 'boiler-room' , a financial operation used to lure and
then trick foreign investors, he had tried to set up in Laos.
No explanation has been given as to Samantha Orabator's pregnancy but
she is understood to be denying previous reports by' Reprieve', which
suggested she may have been raped.
The Laos authorities say that she was caught red-handed at Wattay
International Airport, Vientiane, on August 6th last year. She
allegedly was carrying the drugs not only in her luggage but internally
But added Anna Morris: 'We have to wait to hear what she says herself.
There is an argument of duress even in Laos. She denies the drugs were
'Meanwhile we are extremely concerned for the well being of her unborn baby.'
Samantha was last heard of last year when her mother said she went on
holiday to Amsterdam, a focal point for drugs smuggled from Asia to
Europe, often via West Africa.
In previous cases in Asia, drug mules caught in Asia, claimed they were
offered cash and free holidays, to smuggle diamonds and exotic gems to
Europe. Some have claimed they were forced to traffic drugs.