A pregnant Briton sentenced to life imprisonment in Laos for trafficking heroin has been transferred to British custody and will be sent home to serve her sentence there, a diplomat said on Thursday.
Samantha Orobator, 20, was sentenced in June after pleading guilty to drug trafficking. Police said they found 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in 68 capsules on Orobator's body when she was arrested at Vientiane airport last August on her way to Australia. Her case drew widespread attention in Britain over fears that she could be executed by a firing squad and reports, later discounted by her mother, that she was raped in prison. Her mother, Jane, has said the father is not a Lao prison official but has refused to divulge his identity.
Heroin trafficking is punishable in Laos by death, but Orobator was spared because the law does not allow the execution of pregnant women.
Under a pact signed in May by Laos and Britain, Orobator can be extradited to serve her time in Britain, though it is unlikely she will serve a life sentence. The two countries signed an agreement Thursday paving the way for her transfer.
"Samantha's transfer today would ensure that she will give birth in the UK," Quinton Quayle, the British ambassador to Laos, told reporters at the airport. "We believe that this is the best outcome for all concerned, in particular her unborn child." Orobator was to fly to Bangkok later Thursday and change planes for a flight to London.
British officials had been pressing for the transfer, concerned that she was in the late stages of her pregnancy. She will be 36 weeks pregnant on Aug. 12, after which she would likely be unable to take an international flight.
According to Lao officials, Nigerian-born Orobator initially told authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy. It was not until March 2 that a hospital test showed she was pregnant, verified by a second test April 4, police said.
Lao officials at one point asserted that she may have artificially inseminated herself while behind bars. Orobator's mother, who lives in Dublin, had fought to have her daughter transferred out of Laos since she was arrested. She told the Press Association news agency Wednesday that she was "shocked but delighted" that her daughter's ordeal was nearly over. "I just want her to come back to the UK, that is my first desire," she said. "One step at a time, I just want her to have her baby here."
The rights group Reprieve which publicized her case also welcomed the transfer.
Rights groups say Laos' judicial system is beholden to the Communist regime that has ruled the country since 1975. The country lies in the opium-producing Golden Triangle bordering Myanmar and Laos. Although production of narcotics has fallen in the region in recent years, it is still a major source of illicit drugs.