Today, the Laotian government told the media that the upcoming trial of 20-year-old British woman Samantha Orobator, accused of smuggling heroin, will be fair. That's hardly reassuring, given the circumstances surrounding Orobator's case so far. Last August, she was arrested at Wattay Airport for allegedly carrying 680 grams of heroin in her luggage, an offense punishable by execution. Since then, she's been held in "notoriously abusive Phonthong prison" and allowed to see British and Australian consular officials -- no attorney -- for only 20 minutes a month. After a lawyer from the London-based human rights group Reprieve managed to schedule a meeting with Orobator for this Tuesday, the trial was moved up to this week, and it may begin before the accused has met with counsel at all.
If all of that weren't bad enough, Orobator is five months pregnant. After being arrested nine months ago. And held in an all-women's prison.
Orobator's terrified mother, Jane, has told the press she doesn't know what Samantha was doing in Laos in the first place, let alone with heroin in her bag. "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 U.K. in July. She is not the type of person who would be involved in drugs." Although details of Orobator's case are scant, owing to the severely limited access outsiders have been granted, it sounds a lot like other stories of young women being used as drug mules, either unwittingly or in exchange for promises of an easy payday. As one 2006 article put it, "the so-called mules are usually never intended to complete a successful drug transaction. Instead, they serve as the 'dead meat' that detracts attention from drug-smuggling professionals."
British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammel issued a statement on Saturday, saying, "We have made the Laos authorities aware of this at the highest levels in Samantha's case" and "We are paying close attention to her welfare." Rammel plans to meet with the Laotian Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday. Beyond that, the only real glimmer of hope is that Laos has not carried out an execution in almost 20 years. Given Orobator's mysterious pregnancy and reports of 'highly unsanitary' conditions, inadequate rations and severe punishments for supposed breaches of discipline," at the prison where she's being held, it's cold comfort.