A pregnant British woman accused of trafficking heroin in Laos will not face the death penalty because the law bans executing expectant convicts, a government spokesman said Tuesday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing also said the trial of 20-year-old Samantha Orobator would not be held until next week so that an "appropriate lawyer" could be found to defend her. It had been expected to start this week.
"It might take some time," Khenthong said by phone from the Laotian capital Vientiane, adding that his government would try its best to expedite the case. He said the Justice Ministry was compiling a list of lawyers _ who must be Lao nationals _ from which she could choose.
Orobator was arrested in August and charged with trying to smuggle 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in her luggage.
"According to the Lao law, anyone who possess over 500 grams (1.1 pounds) should be subject to death penalty," Khenthong said. "But there is another provision of criminal law ... that the death penalty will not apply to pregnant woman."
The circumstances of Orobator's pregnancy remained unclear, though Khenthong said that she told authorities in an interview after her arrest that she had become pregnant with her boyfriend.
The British legal charity Reprieve, however, said Orobator was currently five months pregnant, but because she had no access to counsel they could not confirm that, nor the circumstances under which she became pregnant.
Reprieve issued a statement Tuesday saying its representative, Anna Morris, had been barred from entering Phonthong prison despite having been scheduled to meet Orobator.
"I am deeply frustrated by the lack of access to this vulnerable young woman. This is preventing Reprieve from obtaining firsthand knowledge of her welfare and how she is being treated in prison," the statement quoted Morris as saying. "We urge the Lao authorities to allow us access to speak to Samantha as promised, to appoint her a Laotian lawyer and to conduct a fair and open trial process."
In a response e-mailed to The Associated Press, Khenthong said "the Lao Government never denied ... access to Samantha" and that the group should recognize Laos "has its own law and rules."
It was not clear what Morris had done to try to secure access to Orobator, and she did not answer her phone when called for comment.
He said Obobator's trial will be open for all parties concerned, particularly the British consul-general and officials from the Australian Embassy, which handles British interests in Laos. Britain has no embassy in Laos.
Orobator had been in jail for months before the British government learned of her 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.