A British woman who had been facing possible execution in Laos will escape the death sentence because she is pregnant, a spokesman for the Laotian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
he country’s criminal law prohibits courts from sentencing pregnant women to death, spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told CNN. The woman’s trial hasn’t been scheduled yet, he said, but is likely to happen next week.
Samantha Orobator, 20, was facing death by firing squad for drug trafficking, said Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group.
She was arrested August 5, Khenthong has said.
Orobator was alleged to have been carrying just over half a kilogram (about 1lb) of heroin, Reprieve lawyer Anna Morris told CNN by phone from Vientiane, the Laotian capital. Those found guilty of carrying that amount normally face the death penalty, she said.
Reprieve has said Orobator became pregnant in prison, possibly as a result of rape, and that she is due to give birth in September. That would mean Orobator became pregnant in January.
Khenthong agreed that Orobator is five months pregnant.
But he indicated that Orobator might have already been pregnant when she was arrested, and that she lost the first baby while in prison.
He said Orobator declared on the day of her arrest in August that she was two months pregnant by her boyfriend. After she had already been in jail for some time, he said, Orobator asked for medication to cure a vaginal infection, and he believes it caused her to lose the child.
Nuanthasing said officials are investigating Orobator’s pregnancy.
Orobator’s mother said she found out about her daughter’s pregnancy in January. Jane Orobator told CNN she heard the news from the British Foreign Office, which has been monitoring the case.
There is no British Embassy in Laos; a British vice-consul arrived in the country over the weekend, the British Foreign Office said.
Jane Orobator said she cannot believe her daughter was involved in drug trafficking, and she was surprised to learn she was in Laos.
“I don’t know” what she was doing there, she said from her home in Dublin, Ireland. “The last time she spoke with me, she said she was on holiday in London and she would come to see us in Dublin before returning to the UK in July.
“She is not the type of person who would be involved in drugs,” she added.
Reprieve is worried about her health, especially given her pregnancy, Anna Morris said.
“She became pregnant in prison. We are concerned that it may not have been consensual and we are concerned that someone who finds herself in prison at 20 is subject to exploitation,” she said.
Reprieve sent Morris from London to Laos to try to help Orobator, Algar said.
The lawyer arrived there on Sunday and is hoping to visit Orobator on Tuesday, her boss at Reprieve said. A British consul has also arrived in the country.
“I am the first British lawyer who has asked for access to her,” Morris said. “She needs to have a local lawyer appointed to her. We are pressing very hard for the local authorities to appoint one.”
She said it was normal in the Laotian justice system for a defendant to get a lawyer only days before a trial.
The last execution in Laos was in 1990, the foreign affairs spokesman said.
Samantha Orobator was born in Nigeria and moved to London with her family when she was 8, her mother said.