In 2003, over 10% of female prisoners in the UK’s jails were foreign women with drugs convictions.
I can’t find a more recent number, but there has been no substantial change in the scale of the problem. A lot of them are from Nigeria, where Samantha Orabator was born.
In the case of another London Nigerian, Yatunde Diya, who was convicted two years ago in Ghana, I wrote:
“I am sick of the easy presumption by large sections of the media, whenever a British person is arrested abroad on drugs charges, that they are being unfairly dealt with by a tinpot state, and have been set up by evil foreigners.”
But there are important differences. Diya was in Ghana, which has a basically fair legal system. Orabator is indeed in a “Tinpot state” – Laos, which has a nutty communist regime. And she faces the death penalty, even more horrible as she is is pregnant. It is that possibility which gives the story sufficient frisson to headline the news.
I don’t know enough about Laos to know if they execute pregnant women, but killing pregnant women appears to be a universal cultural taboo. I do know enough about Laos to know that it is not a place to ordinarily expect a fair trial. All communist societies, including Uzbekistan, have almost a 100% conviction rate. The State is perfect, so the Prosecutor cannot make mistakes.
This poses an interesting conundrum. It would not be sensible to adopt the position that a Briton should be allowed to commit any crime at all in Laos – say murder – without any expectation of punishment, because it does not have a system of fair trial.
I hope that the lawyer Reprieve are finding her does a good job at trial, and perhaps through diplomatic pressure the death sentence could be commuted if she is convicted. But for us to try to insist the Laotian authorities release her immediately from imprisonment would be quite wrong. There is no particular reason to believe that they have invented the story that she is a drug smuggler.
If you are going to comment, please first read my earlier post linked to above for all the caveats on what leads to drug smuggling etc.