Samantha Orobator sentenced to life

// 3 June 2009

Samantha Orobator will not face the death penalty – instead she will face life in prison after she was found guilty of drug trafficking, according to the Guardian.

The Guardian confirms she was forced to sign a statement saying her pregnancy is not the result of rape while in custody.

She is likely to be allowed to serve her sentence in the United Kingdom, following the signing of a prisoner transfer treaty by both countries last month.

Orobator, 20, from Peckham, south London, avoided a potential death sentence on the grounds of her pregnancy. The Lao authorities required her to sign a statement before her trial saying that she had not been raped or sexually abused while in custody. Her baby is due in September and she was arrested last August.

A Foreign Office spokesperson confirmed the sentence and British consular officials from Bangkok were present in court for the hearing. “We will be in contact with her to discuss her options,” said a spokesperson. It is possible that she will be able to fly back to the UK before the end of the month.

Although Orobator has been sentenced to life, she may be eligible for release in the UK after a few years, as it is her first offence and a defence of duress has been advanced.

Comments From You

Ellie // Posted 4 June 2009 at 10:26 am

I remain amazed that so little attention has been paid to the fact that she was probably raped in prison. She didn’t just ‘become pregnant’.

bea valle // Posted 4 June 2009 at 3:17 pm

I think I read in The london paper that it was a Buddhist monk, who donated his sperm so she could get pregnant and avoid the death penalty. Seriously.

Sabre // Posted 4 June 2009 at 4:44 pm

This is tricky. Yes she could have been raped but there’s no denying that her pregnancy has probably saved her life. Therefore she may have ‘consented’ to sex, but then the circumstances won’t exactly have made it of free will anyway, if she was only doing it to try and save her life. So it would still be rape.

I find the death penalty shocking, I’m really glad she has escaped this fate.

I also noted how her mother claims the trafficking was ‘totally out of character’. It reminds me of the recent story of a man stabbing his wife with scissors being excused for pretty much the same reason. I guess we all like to think that outwardly nice and decent people could never commit crimes (not that I’m saying she did it).

What a sad story.

Madeleine // Posted 4 June 2009 at 5:41 pm

I’ve read that the prison Samantha Orobator is being held in is notorious for its corrupt guards, horrendous conditions and the rape and beating of prisoners. I think she was raped. And I agree with Sabre, even if she ‘consented’ to sex, the circumstances wouldn’t exactly have made it free will.

I’m relieved she escaped the death penalty. I hate the fact that that still exists. But IF she did smuggle those drugs I do think she should serve a UK prison term.

Jen // Posted 5 June 2009 at 10:57 am

A couple of questions:

– these stories always surface when we’re scandalised that a British person got arrested in a country where this is likely to happen to them. What happens to all the women who are arrested, get raped in prison, stay there for life without any chance of being sent out of the country and released after a few years.

– What’s going to happen to her kid?

– What happens to the kids of aforementioned women who never get released?

Jess McCabe // Posted 5 June 2009 at 11:13 am

@Jen

Yes, she’s clearly in a position of relative privilige, because she’s had the British embassy come and swoop to the rescue somewhat, setting up a prisoner transfer arrangement on her behalf. It’s awful, but there’s a possibility she won’t be there forever.

The reason we even know about this case is that the UK media will report first on what happens to people in the UK and UK nationals – that’s just basic news values (the more local the story is to your readers, the higher the news value). There’s a grimness to that for sure, and it definitely perpetuates our wider problem of some people’s lives being perceived in general as ‘worth more’ than others.

But – although the Guardian reported that she may be released early, I think we shouldn’t assume that would happen. My understanding is that a prisoner transfer arrangement doesn’t work if there’s an assumption the other country will commute or overturn the sentence.

I’ve got a link to a report somewhere about what happens to children when their mothers are in prison in the UK, but will have to come back on that one later.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 June 2009 at 3:03 pm

This isn’t aimed at any particular person on here (or its coverage on the Fword): but the coverage of this case annoys me. While I am not suggesting that prison conditions or the legal system are in any way ideal, Laos in all of these discussions are discussed as if they are being incredibly unreasonable and to me a lot of this language comes across as the language of the coloniser, where another countries rule of law is wrong just because it isn’t the same as the way we do things.

Laos is a third world country; the normal population have poor sanitation, short life expectancies and poor nutrition. It is no surprise that prison conditions would reflect this. More problematically, of course, is the corruption of prison guards and rape of prisoners, which is obviously unnacceptable, but this is not exclusive to the third world. It is only in recent years that our own prisons have really cleaned up their act in regard to a lot of these issues, and American prisons are notorious for high levels of rape. Yet, we generally don’t have large campaigns when British subjects are jailed in the US- or even have particular debates about the incredibly long prison terms given out in the US to British subjects.

Laos is also a developing country which has signed up to various treaties to improve their legal system and to make it open to international scrutiny (although it does not yet conform to international standards) and are working towards reducing their death penalty. According to Amnesty, they have not executed anyone since the 1980s, although this is disputed by other sources. The only people who have been given the death penalty in recent years [but not had it carried out] have been drug smugglers.

This reflects that until recently growing drugs, particularly opium, was a huge problem in Laos and the government worked extremely hard to eradicate all opium farming by 2007, although recent reports highlight that it is once more becoming a problem. Living in a society where much of the local economy is based on drugs sales can be devastating. It removes farming land from food production, and when much of the population live on subsistance farming, this creates a desperate, starving population, which increases crime of all sorts, as well as giving corrupt individuals an awful lot of power over desperate people. The harsh penalty for drug dealing reflects that for Laos drug-dealing is creating a humanitarian crisis. It is directly contributing to the deaths of significant numbers of people.

In 2005, Laos had 1.1 million tourists visit, of which 12% came from Europe and another 6% from the US. Yet, cases like this one, where a ‘foreigner’ gets arrested for drug smuggling are rare- which suggests her arrest was not arbitrary or at least no more arbitrary than it would be any other country in the world. Now, I don’t know if she was guilty or not, but if she was, does her British citizenship mean she has the right to go to another country and break their law and receive no punishment? And, does the fact that the punishments given in that country differ from ours mean that we are right? What makes us the arbitrator of appropriate justice- especially when context is so central to the distribution of justice?

Furthermore, Laos are known to be concerned about their public image (tourism is becoming important), which is why they have been so co-operative with external agencies in this case [although I appreciate that there is concern that they could have done a lot more]. But, do we really think our government would have behaved significantly differently? We can barely accept EU legislation, let alone challenges to our sovereignty (which is what interference in another country’s legal system is).

I am not saying that we should have no voice in international affairs, but it is equally inappropriate to cast Laos as the ‘bad guy’ in this story, or to assume that we are more able to judge the guilt and appropriate punishment than them. Who are we to sit on our laurels and judge?

Minty // Posted 6 June 2009 at 2:21 pm

Whilst I do agree with your point about the language and attitude of the coverage from a large portion of the mainstream media, Laos cannot be completely exonerated, they did hold this young woman without access to legal representation, no contact with her family who heard nothing of her imprisonment until recently, no access to British consulate services (whilst Laos does not have a British embassy the British consulate in Thailand covers this region) which as a foreign national she should have been allowed to access.

There are widespread reports of women, especially young black women, being mistreated and raped in prisons in Laos, and to blame the developmental status of the country takes the blame away from the men who are commiting these acts simply because the system enables them to.

Her situation was only made public and made known to the British gov because of the recently signed treaty regarding extradition.

Whilst it is true that prisons in this country are not the same as European prisons,witholding of medical care to a pregnant woman cannot be defended by saying that they are unable to provide this protection by virtue of being a third world state.

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