Samantha Orobator alleged to have miscarried once in Laotian custody already; still being denied access to independent counsel

May 5, 2009

Image of Samantha Orobator

Khenthong Nuanthasing, the Lao government spokesman, has made various official government statements on the case of Samantha Orobator today.

On the BBC the Laotian official was asked whether Samantha became pregnant in the prison. He replied: “That’s impossible. A man or guard cannot act in that way…according to her interview she was pregnant when she was arrested in August.”

Reprieve expresses scepticism at this, and it highlights concerns involving Samantha’s plight. “Samantha is due on September 6, 2009, when she will have been in prison for 13 months. Perhaps the Laotians are under the misapprehension that she is a blue whale, that has a 13 month gestation period, but she is not, she is a human being,” said Reprieve Director, Clive Stafford Smith.

Later Mr Nuanthasing changed his version of events, indicating that “Orobator might have already been pregnant when she was arrested, and that she lost the first baby while in prison.”

“If this is true, then Samantha has already had one miscarriage in that terrible prison,” said Reprieve Executive Director Clare Algar. “In light of the new US State Department report on the deplorable conditions, the need for proper health care is urgent”

The US Department of State in its 2008 Report (issued in February 2009) suggests:

“Prison conditions varied widely but in general were harsh and occasionally life-threatening. Prisoners in larger, state-operated facilities in Vientiane generally fared better than those in provincial prisons. Food rations were minimal, and most prisoners relied on their families for subsistence…Credible reports indicated that ethnic minority prisoners and some foreign prisoners were treated particularly harshly…Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on staff, medical facilities were extremely poor, and medical treatment for serious ailments was unavailable.” (2008 Report)

“Another provision of the law also provides that any pregnant (woman) will not be sentenced to the death penalty,” Khenthong Nuanthasing said.

Khenthong Nuanthasing suggested that Samantha’s trial – which had been unexpectedly brought forward until sometime this week – would now be postponed until next week “due to the issue that we need a lawyer for her.”

Grave doubts about a fair trial

Anna Morris, working with Reprieve, brought this provision of the law to the authorities’ attention yesterday in Laos. See Lao Penal Law Article 32 (“It is forbidden to inflict a death sentence on offenders who are … in a state of pregnancy”).

“We are all glad to see that the Laotians have recognized that their own law forbids executing Samantha by firing squad,” said Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith, “But this is only a first, belated step forward. It was cruel to allow Samantha to think she might be shot for all these months, and the Laotians knew all along that she needed a lawyer. What they did not know is the international outrage that the case would cause. It seems that by delaying they now hope that the media will lose interest in Samantha’s plight.”

Reprieve continues to have grave doubts about the fairness of any legal process. Prior to travelling 9,344 km around the globe, Ms Morris received reassurance in writing from the Vice Consul in Bangkok, by letter of April 29, 2009, as follows:

The British Embassy in Bangkok have received confirmation from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vientiane, that Ms Morris may visit Ms Orobator-Oghagbon on the following days: 04.05.09, 12.05.09 and 14.05.09.

Ms Morris was refused her first visit yesterday, and the Laotians show no sign of allowing her to meet Samantha at all.

Meanwhile, the US State Department Report makes gloomy reading. It notes that all Laotian judges have to be party members, and suggests that a trial such as Samantha’s will be a foregone conclusion; while in theory there is a presumption of innocence, “in practice judges usually decided guilt or innocence in advance, basing their decisions on the result of police or the prosecutor’s investigation reports…” (2008 Report)

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith has written urgently to Foreign Secretary David Miliband asking that the FCO intervene with redoubled force to ensure that Samantha gets independent legal advice, and questioning the appropriateness of the Laotian Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to London on Thursday to discuss a prisoner transfer treaty. “It is intolerable that he should be in the UK to talk about rule of law issues when the Laotians are simultaneously refusing due process to Samantha,” he writes.


For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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