A British woman held in a Laos prison for allegedly drug smuggling will not face the death penalty if convicted because she is pregnant, says the country's government.

Samantha Orobator, 20, has been allowed to see a British government official, but was refused the chance to speak to a U.K. lawyer.

The Laos government says the country's law bans executing pregnant prisoners.

Khenthong Nuanthasing of the Lao Foreign Ministry said her trial will not be held until next week so that an "appropriate lawyer" could be found to defend her.

The Foreign Office said the British vice-consul from Bangkok, in Thailand, had been allowed into Phonthong prison to speak to Orobator.

But lawyer Anna Morris, who has flown to the southeast Asian country on behalf of the legal rights charity Reprieve, said she was refused access even though she had arranged to meet the Briton.

A statement from Reprieve said no explanation had been given by the Lao authorities as to why the meeting was cancelled.

Morris said: "I am deeply frustrated by the lack of access to this vulnerable young woman. This is preventing Reprieve from obtaining first hand knowledge of her welfare and how she is being treated in prison.

"I also do not have any news of a trial date, despite being told at incredibly short notice that it will take place this week.

"We urge the Lao authorities allow us access to speak to Samantha as promised, to appoint her a Laotian lawyer and to conduct a fair and open trial process."

Orobator has been held in jail since last August after she was allegedly caught with 1.5 lb of heroin at Wattay airport.

Those caught with more than the 1.1lb normally face a mandatory death penalty.

Orobator, who is five months pregnant, is detained in Phonthong Prison in Vientiane, a collection of shabby huts, behind walls of razor wire, and watch-towers.

Former inmate Kay Danes said the jail is little more than a torture camp. Torture, which she says is both physical and mental, and involves putting prisoners in medieval stocks.

No explanation has been given as to Orobator's pregnancy but she is understood to be denying previous reports by Reprieve, which suggested she may have been raped.

She is not thought to have seen a lawyer since her arrest but has now received her seventh visit from British officials.

There is no British embassy in Laos and the nearest is in neighbouring Thailand.

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