Lao court gives Briton life term for drug offense

VIENTIANE, Laos – A court in Laos found a pregnant British woman guilty of trafficking heroin and sentenced her to life in prison Wednesday, a court official said.

The life sentence for 20-year-old Samantha Orobator came after a one-day trial in the Lao capital, according to Chanthaly Duangvilai, vice president of the Vientiane Court.

Orobator pleaded guilty, he said at a press briefing after the trial.

Heroin trafficking is punishable by death, but she was spared because Lao law does not allow the execution of pregnant women, said Chanthaly.

Under a recent pact, which still needs ratification, Orobator could be extradited to serve her time in Britain. Lao officials, however, could still veto her return.

Orobator's case attracted particular attention because she became pregnant while incarcerated. Lao officials have asserted that she may have artificially inseminated herself while behind bars.

Orobator arrived in court wearing a blue prison outfit and smiling to reporters. She was escorted by female prison guards but was not in handcuffs or ankle chains.

Her mother also attended the trial, as did at least one official from the British Embassy in neighboring Thailand. sent. Security around the courthouse was tight.

Her mother looked visibly distressed leaving court after the trial, but Orobator appeared calm.

Police said they found 1.5 pounds 680 grams of heroin in 68 capsules on Orobator's body when she was arrested at Vientiane airport on her way to Australia. The British legal charity Reprieve, which has been publicizing Orobator's plight, says the drugs were found in her luggage.

Orobator was arrested last August, but her case didn't draw international attention until news of her pregnancy became public in early May amid concerns that she could be executed by firing squad if found guilty.

The Lao government later confirmed that under the country's criminal law, a pregnant woman cannot receive the death penalty, but officials delayed her scheduled trial date in May because of questions about how she became pregnant.

According to Lao officials, Orobator initially told authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy. It was not until March 2 that a hospital test showed she was pregnant, verified by a second test April 4, police said. That meant she must have gotten pregnant while in prison, they said.

Orobator's mother recently said her daughter had not been raped by prison officials or fellow prisoners, as some media had speculated.

The Vientiane Times on Tuesday quoted police as saying Orobator told authorities she secretly obtained sperm from a fellow prisoner to impregnate herself to avoid the death penalty. The state-run newspaper did not name the sources or give other details.

Orobator was in jail and so could not be reached to confirm or deny the newspaper account.

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