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Samantha Orobator

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why Samantha Orobator has not been repatriated from Laos to the United Kingdom, as Mr Bill Rammell, the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, informed the All-Party Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty that she would be by the middle of June.

My Lords, we hope that Ms Orobator will be able to transfer to the UK before the birth of her child. We have proposed to the Lao authorities a memorandum of understanding to enable the transfer before the UK/Lao prisoner transfer agreement is formally ratified. However, it is unclear whether the Lao authorities will agree the transfer prior to payment of the $70,000 fine imposed on Ms Orobator in addition to her life sentence.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. This case has considerable implications for other prisoners in other countries. In this case, the treaty that the Minister mentioned, signed on 7 May, was a general one. I understand that the application for Ms Orobator’s transfer was forwarded on 17 June. A month has gone by and there is the problem of the last date by which she may be allowed to fly back by an airline. Bearing in mind that to facilitate this transfer she has revoked her right to appeal and any suggestion that she might have been raped in prison, has the Minister any hope that this may be speeded up?

My Lords, the noble Lord is of course right. Time is running out; 12 August is thought to be the last date by which she could travel. We have had regular consular contact with her, most recently at the end of last week. I am pleased to say that she and the unborn child are in good health. They have been visited by a doctor attached to the Australian embassy in Laos. The issue is that the Laotian authorities want the fine imposed on her paid before she can leave. This is a difficult issue. It is not something that the UK Government feel able to pay and yet she is a woman of limited means. Unless they are willing to waive that or others are willing to pay, this will remain a real obstacle to her early return.

My Lords, since by my calculations the Minister has one more Foreign and Commonwealth Question to answer tomorrow before the Summer Recess, I shall keep my arrivedercis for that occasion. In the mean time, in this difficult case, while we could not for one moment condone any kind of drug trafficking or that sort of thing, we would fully support any efforts the Minister made were there room for additional pressure for compassion. Would he accept that?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are having regular contact with the Laotian authorities to try and persuade them to proceed with the prisoner transfer. Others are looking at ways that perhaps some payment could be made. We are trying to get clarity from the authorities on whether partial payment would be sufficient. The noble Lord should be in no doubt that we are leaving no stone unturned to get this unlucky woman and her child home.

My Lords, can the Minister give us some information about the fine? What sort of sum are we talking about? Are the Government prepared to see it paid even though they perhaps cannot pay it themselves?

My Lords, it is a fine of $70,000. She was carrying a large amount of drugs on her at the time of her arrest. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, she has not appealed the conviction. The fine is part of her sentence. The whole House would agree that it is difficult for Her Majesty’s Government to pay that fine directly. There are those who see it as an act of clemency or support to her that they find some way to offer partial payment. We would certainly not stand in the way of that. We would encourage it.

My Lords, it was reported in the Vientiane newspapers that Ms Orobator had indicated that she wished to appeal. Can the Minister confirm that she told the consul that she did not intend to appeal and that the 21 days allowed for that purpose have expired? On the fine, do we not have to look at a more general solution to the problem, apart from the case of Ms Orobator herself? While I appreciate that the Government cannot themselves provide the money to pay the $70,000, or whatever it is, in this case, or any future fines that may be imposed on people as a condition of their being allowed to invoke the repatriation agreement, would the Minister at least indicate that the Government will give their blessing to any independent fund established for the payment of this fine and any others that may enable people to be repatriated?

My Lords, her situation as someone pregnant with a child is one of particular humanitarian concern, but I do not want anyone to be misled about the gravity of her offence. She was found with 680 grams of heroin concealed on her body at the time of her arrest. I can confirm to the noble Lord that she has waived the right to appeal; she accepted the sentence. The difficulty is that, under the prisoner transfer agreement, we would not, when she returned here, have the power to enforce her to make that payment, which is why it has become such an obstacle. However, in this case we would have no difficulty with those who wished to support her making that payment.

My Lords, I totally accept everything that the Minister has said. It is a serious matter. However, could an application be made to the court to extend the time for payment?

My Lords, the difficulty is that the Laotian authorities may well consider that once she has returned here their ability to enforce any extension on payment has been removed. Let me again assure the noble Lord that we are determined to find a way through this. While she is in good health and being well cared for, it is obviously enormously important that she comes home.