-- Clive Stafford Smith is the director of Reprieve, the UK legal action charity that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Samantha Orobator, a 20 year old British woman, is languishing in the Phonthong Prison in Laos, on a capital charge of carrying a pound and a half of drugs in her luggage. Under the languid Laotian legal system, she would normally have waited two years or more for a trial. However, the Laotians accelerated the schedule, announcing late on Thursday that the trial would be held this Monday. They omitted a few of the niceties: She faced the firing squad without a lawyer.
Anna Morris, our Reprieve barrister from London, was scheduled to meet with her on Tuesday, which may have contributed to the chosen trial date. Criticizing the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party is a criminal offense. Perhaps calling for a fair trial is considered too close to the line; the government reneged on its promise, made before Anna flew 9,344 kilometres (5,806 miles) from London to Laos, to allow three days of legal visits.
Controversy envelopes Samantha. She has been in prison since August 6, 2008, and yet she is due to give birth on September 6, 2009. Khenthong Nuanthasing, the Lao government spokesman, spoke to the BBC Tuesday morning. When asked whether Samantha became pregnant in the prison, he replied: “That’s impossible. A man or guard cannot act in that way *** she was pregnant when she was arrested in August.”
One might be sceptical at this. It would mean her gestation period was at least 13 months which, while plausible were she a blue whale, is not what we expect of human beings. Later Mr Nuanthasing changed his version of events, indicating that she might have been pregnant when she was arrested, but that she lost the first baby while in prison.