BANGKOK – The Laotian government on Monday insisted the trial of a pregnant British woman who faces possible death by firing squad for allegedly trafficking heroin will be conducted fairly.
That promise came despite the fact that Samantha Orobator, 20, has not been assigned a defense lawyer, raising concerns as to whether she will be able to properly defend herself, a human rights group said Monday.
Orobator has been in jail in the communist-ruled country since August, when she was accused of trying to smuggle 1.5 pounds of heroin in her luggage. Those caught with more than the statutory limit of 1.1 pounds face a mandatory death penalty.
"The trial is expected to be held this week but I don't know the exact dates," Laotian government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing said, adding it was up to the judge. "The trial will be carried out fairly."
Khenthong refused to comment on the charges against Orobator, her medical condition nor allegations that she was abused while in prison.
Anna Morris, a lawyer with the British-based human rights group Reprieve, said she was concerned that trial would not meet the judicial standards of most countries.
"She hasn't been appointed a lawyer yet and that has been our concern," Morris said. "We are concerned that any hearing may be quite quick in comparison to what will happen in other countries."
Morris, who arrived Sunday in Vientiane, the country's capital, said she had been granted permission to meet with Orobator on Tuesday. The lawyer said Orobator had earlier been told the trial could start Monday, but it was now unclear when the trial would begin.
Morris also said the group was worried about the detainee's health.
"We are concerned about the effect of the uncertainty on Sam's well-being ... given her age, her vulnerability, her pregnancy," Morris said. "We just seek clarity from the Lao government as soon as possible as to what exactly is going to happen so that we can advise her properly."
From her home in Dublin, Orobator's mother Jane Orobator told The Associated Press that she just wanted her daughter home.
"I'm terrified. I'm scared," she said in a telephone interview. "I'm just begging they should not do anything to her. They should just send her back to me."
A Reprieve statement said Orobator was five months pregnant, but because she had no access to counsel they could not confirm whether she was raped in the prison.
The circumstances of her pregnancy remain unclear and the group's statement could not be independently verified.
She had been in jail for months before Britain's government learned of the detention. British diplomats and doctors have since visited her, according to the British Foreign Office.
Laos is a one-party state and rights groups say the judicial system is beholden to the communist regime that has ruled since 1975.
The country lies in the opium-producing Golden Triangle bordering Myanmar and Laos. Although production of the narcotic has in the region fallen in recent years, it is still a major source of illicit drugs.