Fears For Briton In The Black Hole Of Somkhe – Laos

From Andrew Drummond, Bangkok
August 1 2009 
Link to the ObserverThe Foreign and Commonwealth office has admitted it has lost track of the Briton who fathered Samanatha Orobator’s baby in a jail in Laos as prison welfare workers express fear for his life.
47-yr-old John Watson was removed from Phonthong Prison for foreigners in the country’s capital Vientiane before the arrival of Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant last week and Laos officials refuse to say where he is.

But fellow inmates believe he has been put in the ‘Black Hole of Somkhe’, an underground punishment cell  in Somkhe Prison, Vientiane, a prison which according to the Foreign Prisoners Support Service, is renowned for for torture.

It is in punishment cells in Somkhe where prisoners are reported to be locked to the ground by three metal bars ( one across the thighs, another across the stomach,  and the last across the neck) until they beg for mercy and  repent their crimes.

An Embassy spokesman in Bangkok said that Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Chris Bryant had met Watson, from Bradford, West Yorkshire at the office of the Laos Drugs Enforcement Agency during his recent visit.

‘But despite repeated requests the Laos authorities have not informed us where John is being held.’

Prison welfare workers have expressed serious concern for Watson’s life, particular after formerly healthy Briton died of neglect in a Phonthong prison last year. Phonthong prison which also used medieval stocks is regarded as the ‘best of the worst’.

Kay Danes, who runs the Foreign Prisoners Support Service said: ‘It looks like Watson’s fears have now become a reality.  During last contact I had with him at the foreigners’ prison he said. ‘If they move me from here you will not hear from me again.’

Some time ago Watson has wrote to his sister to say ‘If I die in this hell then please do not leave my body here.’
 Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant this week  called a press conference at Suvarnabhumi airport on Bangkok to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Laos on a Prisoner Exchange Treaty.
He said he was was hopeful that 20-yr-old Samantha Orobator, born in Nigeria, but educated in England, could be flown home within the week.

 ‘I very much hope that with any luck Samantha will be able to return in the next week or ten days,’ Mr. Bryant said.

That has not yet happened. In another seven days she will be unfit to fly because she is in the last stages of pregnancy.

‘I very much hope that with any luck Samantha will be able to return in the next week or ten days,’ Mr. Bryant said.

Miss Orobator from Lewisham, South London, would also avoid paying a £42,000 fine.

‘According to the law, of course she must pay all the fine and then leave Laos. But in this case, again because of her pregnancy, it’s a special arrangement,’ Khenthong Nuanthasing, a spokesman for the Laotian government, said.

Kay Danes added: ‘John Watson said he would not survive if he was transferred.  I was in contact with him up until around the time Samantha confessed. He has said his goodbyes to other prisoners all of whom are in a state of panic in Phonthong, .

‘It’s ironic that John Watson gave a life to save a life and now his own life is seriously in danger. He has saved Samantha’s life.  Nobody gets transferred from Phonthong unless it’s a punishment’.

‘We have had many reports now that he has been sent to Somkhe jail.  Nobody gets sent there from Phonthong unless it’s for a punishment. It’s their jail for enemies of the state. Pro-democracy protesters go there and never come out.
‘There is no exercise area and many prisoners are just chained to the floor.’

A former prison inmate Laos-American Yerlee Youngkhue said: ‘Somkhe is a punishment prison. As well as the iron bars prisoners are also shackled with chains weighing   8-22 Kg and they also have stocks. 

Prisoners do not get any food unless they, which is either basket weaving  or staving barrels. The more quantity you get, the more food you get.’

At Bangkok airport Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant said that he was concerned about Watson.
He did not appear to hide the fact that Watson would not be coming home with Samantha Orobator after a campaign started by the charity Reprieve.

‘It is obvious he has lost weight and is clearly very concerned about his future.’

Watson is accused of fathering Samantha’s baby, due in September, while both were together in Phonthong Prison, Vientiane last year.  It is believed Samantha became pregnant after Samantha artificially introduced Watson’s sperm into her own body.

The women and men’s compounds  are separated by a mesh fence.

Miss Orobator faced the mandatory death sentence for trafficking 680 grams of heroin, but Laos does not execute pregnant women. Watson got a life sentence for trafficking in amphetamines, a lesser offence.

The last Briton to die in a Laotian jail was Michael Newman, 42, from Warrington, who was sentenced to 7 ½ years in jail for essentially running a ‘Boiler Room’ an illegal share operation from Laos.  He was reported to have wasted away in Phonthong jail and died after being denied medical treatment.

About the Author

Andrew Drummond

Andrew Drummond is a British independent journalist and occasional television documentary maker. He is a former Fleet Street, London, journalist having worked at the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, News of the World, Observer and The Times.

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