Terms of transfer of British prisoner from Laos draw criticism

Updated On: Aug 13, 2009

The pregnant British woman jailed for heroin trafficking in Laos today arrived back in Britain to serve out the rest of her sentence. Samantha Orobator, 20, said in a written statement that she was “enormously relieved and happy to be back on British soil,” describing her ordeal as “an unimaginable nightmare”.

"I would like to thank all those who were involved in my return, including various British Government officials, for their efforts on my behalf, and for their support,” she said.

Laotian police say they found 1.5 pounds of heroin in 68 capsules on Orobator’s body when she was arrested last year as she boarded a flight for Australia. She was spared the death penalty as she had become pregnant while inside the all-female wing of her jail by the time she was sentenced. Laotian law does not allow the execution of pregnant women but the circumstances of her conception remain unclear.

Orobator will appear within days at the High Court, where judges will set a minimum tariff on the life sentence handed down by the Laotian court. Her lawyers are demanding her immediate release, saying it would be “truly shocking” for Britain to enforce the “insane judgement”.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve, said that the opacity of the Laotian courts, which forced Orobator to sign a series of contradictory statements and denying her legal representation, have obscured the full facts.

“How can we justify throwing someone in prison when we don’t even know the basic facts of the case?” he said.

Whitehall, however, warned that releasing Orobator would destroy the basis of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement under which she was repatriated and dissuade other foreign governments from transferring British prisoners under the same agreement. “If the agreement hadn’t been signed she would still be languishing in a Laotian jail,” one official noted.

The Foreign Office remains concerned for the health of John Watson, another British national jailed in Laos, and is negotiating for his transfer.

Laotian officials have made conflicting claims about Orobator’s pregnancy, first alleging that she was already pregnant when arrested. They later alleged that Mr Watson was the father and that she had conceived the child with a sperm donation to avoid the death penalty. Her lawyers dismissed that claim, saying that while they did not know how Orobator became pregnant in the all-female jail, it “could not have been voluntary”.

Orobator’s mother, Jane, said she now hoped the Government would release her daughter from prison. “I would be very happy if the British Government would just finish everything that they have started. If they could just release her, that’s my desire for now."

Under British law, the lowest tariff for a mandatory life sentence is 15 years. The tariff for a discretionary life sentence, imposed on crimes for which life is not mandatory, could be much lower, as little as three years. However, it was unclear today which principle the Ministry of Justice intends to apply as it is the sentence and not the crime that the transfer was agreed on.

Another British prisoner who was transferred back from Thailand to serve a sentence for drug trafficking is preparing to bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that he is serving a much longer sentence than inmates jailed alongside him for the same offence.

Sarah Ludford, the MEP supporting Orobator’s case, said it was time for European governments to draw up a consistent policy on enforcing court judgments made abroad. “There is a lot of inconsistency in what happens at the moment,” she said.


Ministers condemned for imprisoning pregnant woman after 'sham trial' in Laos, 07 August 2009,


Samantha Orobator returns from Laos 'nightmare' to serve jail sentence, 07 August 2009,


Mother of pregnant drug smuggler glad to be re-united, 07 August 2009,


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