LONDON, England (CNN) — A pregnant British woman jailed in Laos could be transferred to Britain to serve out her sentence if she is convicted under an agreement signed Thursday between UK and Laotian officials.
Briton Samantha Orobator has been jailed in Laos since August on a drug charge. She is five months’ pregnant.
Samantha Orobator, 20, has been jailed since August. She was arrested at a Vientiane, Laos, airport and accused of carrying about a half-kilogram of heroin. Laotian officials and a legal charity working on her case have said she is five months’ pregnant.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell met Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on Thursday in London to discuss the case and sign a prisoner transfer agreement between the two countries.
The drug charge can carry the death penalty in Laos, but Laotian officials have said Orobator would escape the sentence because the country’s criminal code prevents executing pregnant women.
Orobator’s case has drawn attention because of her pregnancy, which may have been the result of rape, according to Reprieve, a London-based legal charity. Reprieve also has said Orobator has not had an attorney since her arrest last year.
I pressed our concerns on behalf of Samantha with the deputy prime minister,” Rammell said. “He said the Laotian authorities understood the need for Samantha to receive good medical and nutritional care. I was encouraged that Samantha has now been provided with a local lawyer who is working with the UK barrister from Reprieve.”
A Laotian official said his government will wait for British approval of the Laotian lawyer before he can start working on the case.
The lawyer met with Orobator on Thursday for about 10 minutes to sign power of attorney documents, said Anna Morris, a Reprieve lawyer who traveled to Vientiane to represent the British woman.
Morris said she was told she would not be allowed into the prison to see Orobator but that she could send questions with the lawyer, who is supposed to meet Orobator on Friday.
Morris said she hopes she and the Laotian lawyer will be able to cooperate on the case. Morris said she was told that she would be allowed to be present in court.
“The deputy prime minister told me that the Lao government would consider Samantha eligible for transfer to the UK to serve out any sentence once the prisoner transfer agreement comes into effect,” Rammell said. “We will continue to pay close attention to this case as it comes to trial.”
Orobator’s trial has not been scheduled but likely will happen next week, said Khenthong Nuanthasing, a Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
It is normal in the Laotian justice system for a defendant to get an attorney only days before trial, according to Reprieve.
Reprieve spokeswoman Clare Algar said Wednesday that it may be beneficial for Orobator to be tried quickly in Laos, be convicted and receive a sentence.
“It’s quite weird as a human rights organization to say that. But if she is sentenced, the British government could ask for a prisoner transfer agreement so that she could be sent back to Britain to serve here,” Algar said. “At a minimum, she would be in better conditions, and it would be better for her baby if she were here.”
Algar said there have been complaints from others jailed in Laos that there’s not enough water and food provided and that prisoners must sleep on the floor.
The prison is co-ed, Algar said, but Laotian authorities insist that men and women are housed separately.