Woman Must Deny Rape or Face Death

You may have already read about Samantha Orobator, a British woman who was arrested on charges of smuggling heroin into Laos last August. If convicted, the sentence for her alleged crime is death by firing squad. On top of all of this, she is five months pregnant — which means that she became pregnant while incarcerated, in what is reportedly “one of Asia’s most squalid jails.” Her mother has stated that she’s worried her daughter may have been raped, but also has not been allowed contact with her daughter.

Obviously, Orobator’s mother’s concerns make a whole lot of sense — indeed, I have to wonder how she could have not been raped. She was in jail. The only males she is supposed to have contact with are the guards. And anyone who thinks that a person can give meaningful consent to someone who effectively acts as their captor seriously needs a remedial lesson in what exactly “meaningful consent” means.

Anyway, we last week we got the news that Orobator will not be executed due to the fact that she is pregnant.  Obviously the fetus’ life is more important than the grown woman’s, as the fetus is “innocent” and the woman may or may not be guilty of committing a crime.  There was also word of a possibility that she would be transferred to jail in the UK if convicted.

But now, outrageously, we get this:

A PREGNANT British woman arrested for heroin smuggling in Laos has been told she must testify she was not raped in prison in order to escape the firing squad.

Samantha Orobator, who is five months pregnant, was arrested last August at Wattay airport in the capital Vientiane for trying to smuggle 680g of heroin.

The Londoner was not pregnant at the time of her arrest.

The 20-year-old goes on trial this week and will be asked to declare publicly that she was not raped in Phonthong prison, one of Asia’s most squalid jails.

If Orobator co-operates, she will be transferred from Laos to a UK prison under a new treaty signed between the two countries on Thursday. If not, her trial will be postponed and she will return to jail in Laos.

If she faces trial again after the birth of her child, she will not have the immunity from execution that pregnancy gives her under the Laos penal code.

A Laotian Government spokesman, Kenthong Nuanthasing, said: “She will tell the court, otherwise she will stay here. Nobody can guarantee that she will not face the firing squad.”

So she can either deny that she was raped or be killed.  And the Laotian government seems to have no issue whatsoever with being public with such information.

It is worth noting that Orobator has reportedly written a letter denying having been raped.  We don’t know what might have coerced her into such a statement, and again I have huge difficulties imagining a scenario of consensual sex in her position — after all, the letter also reportedly said that she had not had sex.  So barring access to artificial insemination in the jail, one of those two statements must be a lie.

But, let’s assume for one moment, for the sake of argument, that she told the truth on the count of rape.  It’s hardly the point.  The point, those who would wish to make it something else, is that when asked the question of whether or not she was raped, a woman should be able to give an honest answer, whatever it is.  She shouldn’t be explicitly told that the price for just answering “yes” to that question is her life.

Then, even more ludicrously, there is this:

“We don’t want the world to blame us,” Mr Nuanthasing said.

Asked who fathered the baby, Mr Nuanthasing said: “It is a mystery – maybe it is a baby from the sky.”

Is that, like, supposed to be fucking cute or something?  Whatever the meaning behind such a statement, it’s outrageous and shows what kind of ridiculously self-serving and misogynistic apologism/denialism Orobator is up against.

I wish her the best and hope that she does whatever she has to do to save her life.  And I hope that no women is ever put in such a horrific position ever again.

via Hoyden About Town


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45 comments for “Woman Must Deny Rape or Face Death

  1. Bitter Scribe
    May 11, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Damn. I don’t care what the woman was trying to smuggle, no one deserves treatment like that. What a barbaric country.

  2. May 11, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    They want to worry about the world not blaming them for an atrocity? Hey, here’s a suggestion: DON’T COMMIT THEM! Sad thing is that I’m not surprised to hear a story like this. I think I may be cynical.

  3. Julie
    May 11, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    That is one of the most hideous things I’ve ever heard. I hope she is able to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

  4. May 11, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    What a barbaric country.

    Bitter Scribe—the whole nation of Laos ain’t barbaric just because the prison officials are misogynists and rapists. What a way to stereotype a whole group of people (a good number of whom are women and girls!).

    And may I remind you all that prisons in the United States have their own sorry-ass problems with rape and gender-based violence, from the local county jail to federal immigrant detention.

  5. May 11, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    What Yolanda said. And in addition to the problem of attempting to describe the nature of the people of an entire country, the word “barbaric” has a whole lot of racial/colonialist baggage that it’s just best to do without, especially when talking about people from other nations.

    And obviously there’s more than enough to discuss here without having to go down that road (any further).

  6. Bitter Scribe
    May 11, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Those people wear uniforms (I presume) and speak on behalf of their country. I’d like to see an American prison official openly, blandly threaten to kill a prisoner who does not recant a rape allegation.

  7. May 11, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Bitter Scribe —

    I guess you didn’t get it from my last comment, so let me be more explicit. We are not gong down the “which country is worse?” road. Period. It’s unproductive, and frankly both a pointless and stupid endeavor that has derailed thousands of such conversations. If you want to keep harping on it, you will not be allowed to comment on the thread any longer.

  8. May 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Re: “barbarism” and Laos — I’ve traveled a bit, and I spent some time in Laos this past summer. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world, in large part because the people are so kind, generous, friendly and open. “Barbaric” is the last word I would choose to describe that society. It is, however, a fair description of legal systems which employ the death penalty — including ours. Doesn’t make a whole country barbaric, though.

    But back on topic: I would suggest looking into how human rights attorneys suggest handling these situations. International outrage is sometimes helpful, but often is not. There have definitely been cases where governments have come down harder on foreign criminals because of the international attention. Just something to keep in mind here.

  9. May 11, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I’d like to see an American prison official openly, blandly threaten to kill a prisoner who does not recant a rape allegation.

    Are you kidding me? US prisons do a hell of a lot of shit to silence raped prisoners! Hell, I could site case after case off the top of my head—a Mexican transwoman raped in US immirgrant detention, a Florida reform school that is alleged to have raped AND killed dozens of boys before the 1960s, women at a federal prison who were raped and prostituted to guards—the list goes on. And most times, prison officials either look the other way or bully survivors into silence, and they ALWAYS deny the problem of rape behind their own prison’s wall. If you don’t believe me, check the nonprofit org Stop Prisoner Rape. SPR focuses solely on US prisons.

    Cara, I don’t mean to take the focus off of Sister Orobator’s struggle, but I get heated when rape culture is ascribed as a racial, ethnic, or class characteristic. How many times do we have to say this: Most of the world lives in a rape culture!

  10. May 11, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Our government, and our people, have done plenty to incur a charge of barbarism, too (whatever it means). I’ll paraphrase Mencken here and say that all decent people are sometimes ashamed of their governments.

  11. May 11, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    And sorry, Cara, for contributing to the de-rail. I left that comment before I saw yours.

  12. Bitter Scribe
    May 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Fine. Call these guys (prison officials) barbaric or misogynist, it doesn’t really matter. They’re SOBs however you cut it.

  13. Michael
    May 11, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Any sex occurring in a prison/jail/mental institution needs to be treated as rape. That is someone should be arrested. Some people may argue whether it is ok for two inmates in prison to have sex. This incorrect. In prison it is impossible to decide whether a person is choosing sex out of their own free will. Even inmates are subjected to all sorts of pressure, coercion and violence for sex. Consensual sexual relationships can not occur under such conditions.

  14. Harumph
    May 11, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Michael, you could probably change “jail/institution” to “patriarchy” and your comment might still apply…

  15. Lance
    May 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Michael– Surely that can’t work as a blanket statement. To the extent two inmates can form a consensual relationship in prison, surely we don’t want the government to have the right to punish one or both of them for exercising a basic human right. This is particularly true since many of those inmates will be in there for no good reason. The situation is obviously different for guards/inmates. And I presume your statement wasn’t meant to include two guards fooling around in the proverbial supply cabinet.

    As for the original post: It’s so utterly horrific there’s nothing to be said. I too hope she does what she must to save herself and can speak openly when she gets home. Jill raises an excellent point about international outrage. The best move is frequently no move, and it takes an expert to recognize those situations (and, more to the point, situations where that’s not the case).

  16. Lady Vanessa
    May 11, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    wow…so much to be pissed off about here, and it has been covered pretty well as far as the issue of a prisoner not being able to consent. This definitely appears to be a case of rape, and should be treated as such. Not sure what can or should be done in these sorts of cases where the accused person is from one country but the alleged offense took place in another country. Perhaps there should be some sort of international/United Nations court that might be able to deal better with these situations???

    Yes, the US government is often just as bad as any and i agree that this should not be an argument over which country or government is worse. In my opinion, as an Anarchist/Green/Socialist, pretty much ALL currently existing governments suck and should be dismantled and replaced.

    Of course, none of this would even be happening of not for the ridiculous, wasteful, and fascist “War on (Some) Drugs” that the USA, Laos, and most of the other currently existing governments insist on fighting even though it will never work, and only ends up creating more problems.

    I guess i would say i agree with Bitter Scribe that Laos is a barbaric country with a barbaric government…but i would say the same thing about the United States and its government, and most if not all other countries and their governments.

  17. umami
    May 11, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    It doesn’t change how horrific this case is, but I guess one possibility where it’s NOT quite rape would be if she knew the rule about pregnancy/executions and tried to get pregnant on purpose? Which is still rape really, but by the legal system rather than an individual man.

    Anyway. I don’t have anything to say about the main point of the post beyond “that’s awful.”

  18. William
    May 11, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Without going down the whole useless “which country is worse” road, am I the only one who wonders why the hell the British government doesn’t just solve this problem and be done with it? Not to be an asshole or anything, but she’s a British citizen. Fuck it, go on in with SAS and leave a little pile of uniformed rapist corpses. Thats the benefit of a power differential out in the wild, your citizens don’t have to put up with this shit. If Laos has a problem they can have some insignificant bureaucrat issue an official diplomatic complaint to be logged in the circular file. No, I know this won’t change anything other than the circumstances of this specific woman, but that seems like enough to me.

  19. micheyd
    May 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    I joined the Facebook group for her cause, and it’s chock full of victim-blaming fetus fetishists who say she should be saved – but only “for the baby.” And now this! It’s a perfect storm of woman-hate. I am really holding out hope she can be transferred to a UK prison where she can tell the truth about what happened to her. And, depending on the evidence against her, perhaps a pardon too.

  20. May 11, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    There are worse things than drugs, like rape and murder.

  21. May 11, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    The way I see it – there are countries where it’s generally better to be a woman, and there are countries where it’s worse (harder, more dangerous, more complicated, you name it). While this can be highly subjective in terms of experience, you know it when you feel it on your own skin. It usually comes down to the laws and their interpretation and application. If a Laos official is empowered to make these kinds of statements to the media about a foreign national from the West (and it’s not like we can pretend there isn’t a pecking order as to which passport makes you more or less a human being in the eyes of others), then I can imagine that what he feels empowered to do to the citizens of his own country is probably much worse.

    This is a sick, scary situation. “A baby from the sky.” The guy is having tremendous fun with this, that much is certain. Orobator is most likely a scapegoat for all sorts of public figures.

  22. May 11, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    This is very Orwellian.

    Also on the “we don’t want the world to blame us,” I think Nuanthasing is in for a shock as you’d have to be very invested in Nuanthasing’s appalling tactics not to see through this manipulation with the life of a person.

  23. Starfoxy
    May 11, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    In some ways the ‘baby from the sky’ is better than the direction I originally thought they were going to take this; That she offered sex to a guard as a bribe and is therefore obviously criminal and a slut to boot.

  24. May 11, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    There are just no words. This is fucking disgusting.

  25. D
    May 12, 2009 at 12:33 am

    There are a lot of opinions on this page. Most don’t ask the question about how she even got locked up in the first place. Currently, no one in the press has access to the ‘facts’ because no one has been given access to her (save for the consulate – which will never interfere in another country’s sovereign legal process). In fact, only these allegations are known at this time:

    1. Drugs were found in luggage during transit through Laos.
    2. The authorities have stated that the luggage belonged to her.
    3. The quantity is sufficient to incur the death penalty.
    4. She was locked up in a local prison facility, initially without consular assistance, then without legal assistance. Her family was not informed.
    5. She denies the charges, but other than that, zero information has been released.
    6. Legal counsel from Reprieve was denied access, despite being issued a visa. Only after international pressure was she allowed to pick a ‘local lawyer’ from a preselected list. However there are no reports that she has been seen by the person she ‘chose’.
    7. Authorities intend to move her trial date forward. Normally, it takes years for such a trial to be heard, but in an effort to reduce the case’s profile, the authorities wish to short list it. Moving the date will make it very difficult for the defence to prepare. If they are heard at all.
    8. She is pregnant & it has been reported that this happened while she was detained in a women’s only prison.
    9. News reports suggest she is being coerced into saying the pregnancy was voluntary.
    .
    In many countries, there is no presumption of innocence in drug smuggling cases. Laws in Australia, Asia, the Middle East (among other areas) shift the burden of proving innocence onto the person charged if the authorities can prove possession.

    Any luggage can be tampered with. If it has a zip, it can be opened with a pen and resealed in seconds. Without a trace. Even if it is locked. It could happen to you. Seeing is believing:

    http://www.securoseal.com/main.php?pg=news&news_id=316

    It happens all the time and its not just Asia. Its in the west too. Its not a conspiracy theory – its a fact. Read about it:

    http://www.securoseal.com/main.php?id=325

    If it happened to you, would that make you a smuggler? Think about it next time you pack your luggage and check it in. Think about it next time you read a news story about a bag just like yours.

  26. janet
    May 12, 2009 at 2:07 am

    it still shocks me to hear these stories. sigh. i hope that once she gets back to Britain she can then finally tell her complete story. maybe she can write a book, and have copies shipped to the people who made her lie about this atrocity.

    i don’t condone drugs or the drug trade (or most of the prescription drug trade either) but who cares about something minor like that when we are talking about a violation of someone’s body and potentially of her life. something needs to be done to stop rape from being so prevalent in prisons – and everywhere else for that matter!

  27. janet
    May 12, 2009 at 2:11 am

    I’m so pissed off! I mean, why isn’t stopping rape one of the top things on the to-do list? We need more education, more programs that talk about it. Talk about related topics like coercion and have more women’s empowerment.

  28. May 12, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Horrible.
    I agree with the fact there are indeed countries where a woman’s life is made more difficult by a set of laws and powerbrokers who manipulate controls. For instance, Iran considers 9 to be an apt age for executing female offenders while it increases the threshold to 15 for male offenders. UAE is fairly ok with charging a mother who miscarries – caught in a traffic accident where someone rammed into her car from behind – with unintentional homicide (of the foetus) and asks her to pay fine for it. Brazilian officials saw nothing wrong in placing a 15 year old girl in a cell with more than a dozen men. Pakistan tribal councils often advise public flogging/stoning for rape victims and bride burning continues to this day in my country (India).
    Plus, the recent hanging of Delara Darabi. She was killed without so much as a phone call to her attorneys. No one outside of Amnesty and a few middle eastern media outlets concerned itself with this tragedy.
    So, most definitely there are places where being a woman is that much tougher.

  29. shmengie
    May 12, 2009 at 8:46 am

    yup, pretty fucked up, indeed. let’s hope ms. orobator does the smart thing and says whatever the hell she has to to get outta there.

    jesus, didn’t she ever see, “midnight express”?

  30. Maria
    May 12, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Good news: She’ll be transferred back to the UK.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/07/pregnant-woman-laos-drug-trafficking

    And the Deputy Prime Minister of Laos says that pregnant women can’t receive the death sentence…must look into that further

  31. Maria
    May 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Sorry, I didn’t see that the post had already said that! *sheepish*

  32. Emma
    May 12, 2009 at 9:29 am

    If the Laotian government is offering her release into a British prison then some kind of pressure has worked on it, whether it’s pressure from public outcry or pressure from the British government. So, yes, the Laotian government is barbaric and its position is heinous.

    But treat this as the partial victory it is, and gear up for the next round of public pressure on the British government to let her out of their prison.

    This woman has yet to be tried for anything in Laos or Britain. The logical end result of this, if it can be made to happen, is that she’s released into British custody, subsequently released from British custody, and never tried for her alleged crime and never given back into Laotian custody. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize here: this young woman’s life and freedom and let’s keep the pressure on all the way through this.

  33. May 12, 2009 at 10:20 am

    You know, I could see the Thai officials making that ‘baby from the sky’ comment in total seriousness. When sociopolitical unrest is honestly chalked up to a battle between reincarnated 17th century generals and used maxi pads are used as a weapon against Khmer black magic, who’s to say that a foreigner in jail couldn’t become pregnant with a sky baby?

    (And I’m not kidding; the woman who reports on army affairs recently wrote a book in Thai on this very subject.)

  34. May 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Why is it that they always have “allegedly raped” in articles, but this one has no “allegedly” for the heroin smuggling?

  35. May 12, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    “And I hope that no women is ever put in such a horrific position ever again.”

    Fat chance, unfortunately.

  36. May 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I’m wondering where Amnesty International is in all of this. Does anyone know if they’re on the case?

  37. May 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I don’t know anything about this case except what you have reported. As I was reading your article, a few things struck me.

    1) Your linked article stated that she has obtained a local lawyer recently, and that the approval is still in progress. This suggests we don’t have all the facts yet.

    2)She won’t be pregnant forever. What happens to a non-pregnant, incarcerated woman with a British baby?

    3)Laos apparently has some room for leniency for pregnant women.

    4) Without evidence that she was raped, there is equal room for speculation that her pregnancy was deliberately planned in some way. Getting pregnant to avoid death doesn’t sound like much of a choice either. However, it does assume constrained consent and survival instinct.

    5) Why would a Briton bother to transport heroin to one-party Communist Laos, when Vietnam is next door?

    http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90777/6248610.html

    6) CIA Worldbook says that Laos has got a 73% increase in poppy production from 2007 to 2008 and a chunk of meth. So of course, it’s easy to assume Laos made a show for their own purposes and got stuck with their name on the birth certificate.

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/la.html

    These questions lead me to withhold my normal outrage for this kind of situation, until I know more, and makes me wonder if this isn’t all some kind of delicate political dance.

    Finally, concentrate for the baby!

  38. May 12, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Is my comment in limbo?

  39. William
    May 12, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    These questions lead me to withhold my normal outrage for this kind of situation, until I know more, and makes me wonder if this isn’t all some kind of delicate political dance.

    Which makes me wonder what the point of it all is. Not to be blunt, but Laos is an insignificant little dictatorship with no ties to major regional powers and Britain is a world power with a modern military and one of the most advanced special forces programs in the world. It seems to me that the British government should have put an end to this awhile ago.

  40. May 13, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I haven’t checked recently, but certainly until 7 years ago there had never been a Not Guilty verdict in a Lao court. If you displease someone enough to get charged, you will be convicted.

  41. May 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    However, it does assume constrained consent and survival instinct.

    WTF? Choose between certain death and “having sex” with some guy? That is NOT any type of consent. If a man came in through your window and told you to have sex with him or he’d kill you, would you say you gave constrained consent, or would you say it was rape? After all, you had the choice of not doing it and getting killed, which is exactly the choice this woman had. Even IF she did it on purpose — and that’s a goddamned big if, given what we know about prisons in general and this one in particular — there’s still no reason not to call it rape. I also feel like this train of thought is a way to derail the conversation from how to best help this woman.

  42. CassieC
    May 15, 2009 at 4:21 am

    roofingbird’s “concentrate for the baby” makes me think s/he is a pro-lifer who sees the magical sky fetus as more important than what is happening to the mother.

    This post is about Samantha Orobator: her problems, her perspective and her agency.

  43. Tonya
    May 16, 2009 at 12:30 am

    This is pure fuckery! I read about this and now they want to FORCE the woman to say that she wasn’t raped. Doesn’t Lao’s injustice system realize that once she steps onto British soil again, she’ll tell what really happened??? If this “official” who doesn’t want to be blamed by the world thinks that this woman isn’t going to talk about their injustice system, he’s sadly mistaken. In facat, as someone mentioned, she may write a book about it and blast their business around the world in 12 different languages.

    I can’t even imagine how this woman must feel being stuck in a prison in Laos, where I assume she doesn’t speak the language, and is probably the onely black woman there.

    What kind of “choice” is this??? Tell that you weren’t raped or die!?!?! This is FUCKED.

  44. May 21, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    One possibility is that Samantha, knowing she faced a death sentence, asked someone to impregnate her, hoping they would not execute a pregnant woman.

    Those who note that prison rape is hardly foreign to the U.S. are quite correct. It went on in Michigan prisons for more than a decade AFTER a Dept of Justice report warned that it was happening.

    http://tinyurl.com/8pq42f

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