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UK seeks legal help for pregnant Briton facing drugs charges

British officials say they will continue to seek legal representation for a pregnant Briton facing drugs charges in Laos. If convicted under Laotian law, Samantha Orobator, 20, could face the death penalty by firing squad.

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AFP - British officials said Monday they would continue to press for legal representation for a pregnant Briton expected to face trial in Laos on drug charges this week, but it was unclear when the case would be.

Under Laotian law, Samantha Orobator, aged 20, could face the firing squad if convicted.

The British embassy in Bangkok said its vice consul in Thailand arrived in neighbouring Laos over the weekend to assist Orobator, "in particular to make sure Samantha does have good legal representation," a spokesman said.

Britain's Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell has said he will also raise the case with the Laotian deputy prime minister when he meets him in London on Thursday, but campaigners have said they fear this may be too late.

Orobator was arrested last August after allegedly being caught with 680 grams (1.5 pounds) of heroin while trying to board a plane to Thailand.

With confusion surrounding when the trial will be, the British diplomatic spokesman in Bangkok said Monday "all that we know is that it's not today". This was confirmed by Khenthong Nuanthasing, a spokesman for the Lao government. "The trial will be held this week but I don't have the exact day," he said.

Khenthong said that, as far as he knew, no foreigner has ever been executed in Laos.

However, human rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that, even though under local laws the Briton would get the death penalty, the Southeast Asian country has an effective moratorium on capital punishment.

Earlier, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the justice advocacy group Reprieve, which is helping Orobator, said she had somehow "managed to get a call through" and said the trial was set for Monday.

"This whole process is a farce. The trial is just being put on as a show. They wanted to get it all over with before she was able to see a British lawyer," Stafford Smith added.

Reprieve lawyer Anna Morris arrived in Laos at the weekend and told Sky News she was to meet Orobator on Tuesday. However, she expressed concern the trial could go ahead before then.

Until now, the Nigerian-born Orobator has had no legal representation, Morris said, adding that she understood that in Laos, defendants were only allowed to meet their lawyers a week before the trial or even, in some cases, the day the trial starts.

"That has been our concern from the outset, that she has had no access to legal counsel before this week," she added.

The British government said it only learned of Orobator's plight months after her arrest, but is now in regular contact with Laotian authorities.

Orobator's mother has expressed concern about the welfare of her daughter, who is due to give birth in September.

"I'm so scared, I'm so scared... I don't know what they are up to there," Jane Orobator told Sky News television.

She added: "I learned she was pregnant. Before she was arrested she wasn't pregnant."

In a statement last July, Amnesty International said there had been no executions in Laos since 1989. It urged the government to "go a step further by formalising the current de facto moratorium."

Government spokesman Khenthong agreed no one has been put to death in 20 years but said the Lao courts still issue death sentences.

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