The case of a British woman facing a possible death sentence in Laos for drug offences highlights a justice system shrouded in secrecy, characterized by lack of access to legal representation and to independent human rights monitors.
Reports indicate that British national Samantha Orabator has still not been able to see a lawyer. The 20-year-old was arrested in August 2008 after allegedly being caught in possession of 0.6kg of heroin at Wattay airport, Vientiane. It has since emerged that she is pregnant.
Under the Lao Penal Code, pregnant women are exempt from capital punishment, and the Lao Foreign Ministry has stated that they will not impose the death penalty in this case. It is however mandatory for some drug offences, including the possession of over 500 grams of heroin.
Amnesty International calls on the Lao government to uphold this commitment, and to commute all other death sentences. Although Laos has not executed anyone for the last 20 years, it continues to impose the death penalty, primarily for drug offences.
In a March 2009 letter to Amnesty International, the Lao government stated that at the end of 2008, 85 people were on death row.
Concerns about the continued imposition of the death penalty are heightened by trials which do not meet international standards of fairness such as the presumption of innocence, access to legal representation and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
Moreover reports of harsh prison conditions continue to emerge, including ill-treatment, lack of food, overcrowding and inadequate medical care.
Amnesty International is calling on the Laos authorities to ensure that Samantha Orabator, and all detainees in Laos, are held in conditions that fully meet international standards, and that they are allowed access to lawyers and proper medical care.