Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Does Samantha Orobator deserve this?
A pregnant British woman was sentenced to life in prison for heroin trafficking by a court in Laos today. A panel of judges found Samantha Orobator, 20, guilty of trafficking 680g (1.5lb) of heroin last August, when she was caught trying to board a plane to Thailand.
On the surface this looks like a logical outcome for a crime in a country that is known for its harsh sentences. Anyone, like myself, who has ever watched an episode of Banged Up Abroad (also on Youtube) will testify to the harsh consequences handed out for drug smuggling, especially in Asian countries. And Britons all over the world are locked up in unimaginable conditions as a consequence. So taking this in to context, on the surface Samantha Orobator's case is nothing special.
However, when a closer look is taken into account all sense of 'normality' goes out of the window. The facts are that she was arrested in August but was unable to speak to any legal representation for her defense for 9 months. She was even denied access to speak to any family, including her mother. For nine months she was locked up in the female section of the prison with know contact from anyone whilst protesting her innocents. At the time of writing Samantha is now 5 months pregnant. Wait. Yes, 5 months pregnant. But hold on she has been locked up for 9 months how could this have happened?
The circumstances under which Samantha became pregnant, four months after being jailed, are unclear. It appears she conceived in December despite being in an all-female prison. The story going out is that she used a syringe to impregnate herself with sperm from a male inmate in order to avoid the death penalty. But this alone raises too many questions.
"This case is not about babies, it is about heroin" chief government spokesman Kenthong Nuanthasing said with a tone of rising annoyance. She signed a statement to say she was not raped. She did not have intercourse with any man in prison. There is no male close to her during her time in prison. All the prisoners are women and all the guards are female.”
Asked who could have fathered the baby, he raised his eyes to the ceiling and said with an impatient laugh: “Maybe it is a baby from the sky like (the Virgin) Mary.”
So why was she made to sign a statement denying she was raped without explaining the truth of her pregnancy?
“We don’t want the outside world to blame us (for her pregnancy),” Nuanthasing said. “That is why we asked her to write a letter to certify that she was not raped and the baby inside her is not a Lao baby.”
Nuanthasing made it clear that in order to return home to Britain, Orobator will be expected to confirm at her trial the statement she signed in prison.
“She will tell the court — otherwise she will stay here,” he said. “Her court case will be dissolved.” So basically he's saying if she doesn't sign she won't be freed whether it is true or not.
Such a delay could mean Orobator’s trial being delayed until after she gives birth and Nuanthasing stressed that the threat of a death sentence could still be invoked as she is only exempt from the death penalty while she is pregnant under Lao law.
“Nobody can guarantee she will not face the firing squad,” he said.
The government insists Orobator is being held in an all-female prison. In fact, Phonthong Prison on the outskirts of Vientiane holds male and female prisoners in separate blocks and has both male and female guards living in shabby quarters in the grounds outside.
As soon as I read about the case of Samantha Orobator, I knew it must have been a prison guard who got her pregnant, a French former inmate who spent five months in the same prison over a business dispute said.
Female prisoners are fair game for the guards there. They weren't exactly raped but they were coerced into sex with promises. The guards would tell them they could get them off the death penalty or get them or shorter sentence, or make life inside more comfortable for them, the former inmate said. There is no humanity and no compassion in that place.
I have been shocked by peoples responses to this case. Comments I have read on blogs and the mainstream media seem to believe that she managed to sleep with an inmate, maybe had consensual sex whilst in prison with a prison guard for a favour, or used a syringe and impregnated herself with an inmates sperm to avoid the death penalty. In any case an overwhelming majority of the views i read point to Samantha being complicit.
Has anyone looked at the conditions of the jail she's being held? She has know contact with her family, doesn't know when her trial is, doesn't know whether she will live or die, Is in a foreign country and can not speak the language... and the first thing on her mind is to seek a lover within 16 weeks of incarceration? Yeah right!
Whatever you think of Samantha the fact is this case has been flawed from day one and raises many questions. By know means do i condone drug smuggling and if she did it then she is subject to the laws under that jurisdiction. However, she like others around the world who are in vulnerable situations should be entitled to have there human rights upheld and at the very least have access to fair representation from the beginning. The treatment she has received from the Laos authorities is unacceptable. The treatment she is receiving by the British public is unacceptable. Guilty or not, does Samantha Orobator really deserve this?