Jane Orobator lives in a small house in Dublin, Ireland. She’s a full time psychology student at Trinity college and she is single-handedly raising 3 girls aged 9 to 14. Their smiling faces are framed in photos on the walls at home — the only ornaments in an otherwise sparsely decorated house.
But there is one family member missing from these photos: the oldest sister, Samantha, now 21, in prison in Laos charged with smuggling heroin. “My life, my world is crumbling like a pack of cards right before me,” Jane Orobator told CNN in an emotional interview. “Samantha has never given me any cause to worry.” Over the course of a 90-minute interview with CNN, Orobator frequently broke down in tears. At one point, she collapsed to her knees and begged for her daughter’s release. But Jane Orobator is clearly baffled and mystified as to how her daughter ended up in Laos in the first place. Samantha Orobator was born in Nigeria. Her family sent her to London, England, to live with her aunt when she was 8 years old to escape the political strife back home. By many accounts, Samantha was a happy and popular child. She achieved good grades and excelled in biology, hoping to become a surgeon. “A really nice child, who loved school, good friends, respected the staff, behaved herself and achieved good academic results,” recalls school headmaster Serge Cefai. “We’re extremely surprised,” he says, “We’ve had some of her ex-friends get in touch with the school saying ‘What do you know’ Well, we only know what the media has told us and what’s now coming out. And everybody is in the same boat. Samantha couldn’t be involved in drugs, could she”
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Jane Orobator describes her daughter as quiet, petite and “fragile.” Her daughter never mentioned any boyfriends and didn’t smoke or drink, she says. In fact, Samantha’s life was so trouble-free that when her mother and three sisters eventually moved to Dublin, Ireland, the family decided that she should stay with her friends and school in London. Friends say she was popular and outgoing, but that she also had an adventurous streak. Her former classmate Ronke Oseni describes a fun-loving girl with a passion for travel. “The thing about Samantha is that she likes to travel and do new things,” she explains. “She’s very funny, like extremely funny, the weirdest sense of humor, very articulate, very hard working.” But the last time Oseni talked to her friend was in June last year. She did not mention any plans to go overseas. In fact, Samantha was planning a holiday, says her mother. Jane Orobator last talked to her daughter in July when she was traveling with friends in Holland. But Samantha did not mention any details about who she was traveling with or where she was going next. In August Samantha was arrested at the Wattan Airport in Vientiane, Laos, allegedly in possession of 1.5 pounds of heroin — an offense punishable by death. How did Samantha end up here Jane Orobator doesn’t know. British consular officials contacted her sister, the aunt who raised Samantha, in September, informing the family that she was in jail. When Jane Orobator discussed it with her sister, both women dismissed it as impossible. “I just didn’t believe it. It was totally out of character.” She told us, “I thought it was her passport that someone else was using. And I was furious that Samantha had lost her passport or given it to someone else.” It wasn’t until January that British consular officials contacted Jane Orobator directly and confirmed that the woman inside the Phothong prison in Laos was indeed her daughter. And the nightmare got worse: She was told Samantha was five months pregnant. “I’ve not been able to comprehend it. Being there. Samantha Arrested Five months later she is pregnant” she says. “Because it’s like a puzzle. I’m still trying to figure out how she got there. I have not been able to figure that out. Suddenly, she’s pregnant.” Oseni and other friends have rallied to her side and support groups have sprouted across the Internet — hoping public pressure will lead to her release. There is a glimmer of hope: The Laos government said Samantha Orobator will no longer face the death penalty, because Laotian law does not allow the execution of a pregnant woman. Also, a new prisoner transfer agreement signed Thursday between Laos and Britain may allow Samantha to serve her prison term here in Britain. “It is good news that she might be able to come here and if she’s found guilty and has to serve her sentence here, at least I can visit her because where she is no one can visit her,” said Oseni. “She’s a strong person. She has a strong character. She can defy any odds.” But for Jane Orobator, the ordeal is not over yet. She still fears that conditions in the Phothong prison may be too harsh for her daughter.
“Technically, they haven’t killed her by firing squad. They have killed her the other way around. Because they can never give her the care she needs. Because the circumstances of the pregnancy, the psychological torment she’s going through.” Jane Orobator says she is waiting for her Irish passport. She then hopes to travel to Laos and see her daughter before her trial starts, possibly as early as next week.