Samantha Orobator was detained by police on August 5, 2008 at Wattay airport after authorities allegedly found 1.5lb. of heroin in her suitcase when she was leaving the country. She was taken to the notoriously squalid Phonthong prison, known for its terrible living conditions and torturous prison guards.
Orobator became pregnant four months after her incarceration. Lao officials deny she was raped and suggested she was pregnant before she was arrested, something human rights groups say is impossible.
Orobator was finally permitted to meet with a British lawyer last week, but was not able to discuss details of her imprisonment and personal health due to the presence of ten Lao government officials.
“In the circumstances, I was not prepared to ask her the questions I had envisaged,” said barrister Anna Morris, from the legal charity Reprieve. “To do so in the presence of members of the Lao government would have been a breach of my professional duty to Samantha.”
The meeting was held at Lao governemnt offices intead of the prison, so members of the charity were unable to assess Orobator’s living conditions. Morris said the girl was visibly pregnant.
Her trial is expected to start as early as next week, but there are still many questions and conflicting reports regarding her case.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Orobator “has been told she must testify she was not raped in prison in order to escape the firing squad”:
If Orobator co-operates, she will be transferred from Laos to a UK prison under a new treaty signed between the two countries on Thursday. If not, her trial will be postponed and she will return to jail in Laos.
If she faces trial again after the birth of her child, she will not have the immunity from execution that pregnancy gives her under the Laos penal code.
A Laotian Government spokesman, Kenthong Nuanthasing, said: “She will tell the court, otherwise she will stay here. Nobody can guarantee that she will not face the firing squad.”
Laotian leaders are sensitive to suggestions Orobator might have been raped in jail.
“We don’t want the world to blame us,” Mr Nuanthasing said.
Asked who fathered the baby, Mr Nuanthasing said: “It is a mystery – maybe it is a baby from the sky.”
Phanthong prison is known to human rights groups and former inmates as a horrifying place where suffering, malnutrition, and torture are routine.
Kay Danes, an Australian who survived ten months in the co-ed prison with her husband, on the same cell block that Ms Orobator is being held, told the The Times the prison is a “‘terrible, terrifying’ place where inmates survived on meagre, often deeply unhygienic rations of pig fat soup or occasionally a paste made from catfish that had perished from disease in one of the foetid prison ponds.”
Danes said she and her husband “endured mock executions, waterboarding and torture” while imprisoned.
“I watched my husband sit on a concrete floor with his legs in wooden blocks and they beat him with a steel tie brace,” she told Sky News, who published photos from inside the facility.
Orobator’s mother told CNN that her daughter “is not the type of person who would be involved in drugs.”
“My life is crumbling just right before me”, she said. “I am in hell. I am living, but I don’t know if I’m living or existing anymore. It has been a nightmare. This is a bad dream.”
The Guardian reports the prosecution has now completed its case and Orobator will be given 48 hours notice of her trial, which is expected to take less than a day.