Laos sentences pregnant
Briton to life for drugs
Vientiane (AP) - A court in Laos found a pregnant British woman
guilty of trafficking heroin and sentenced her to life in prison last
Wednesday, a court official said.
The life sentence for 20-year-old Samantha Orobator came after a one-day
trial in the Lao capital, according to Chanthaly Duangvilai, vice president
of the Vientiane Court.
Orobator pleaded guilty, the court official said at a press briefing after
the trial, adding that she named several of her alleged accomplices in her
testimony. She was the only defendant in the case.
Heroin trafficking is punishable by death, but she was spared because Lao
law does not allow the execution of pregnant women, said Chanthaly.
Under a pact signed last month by Laos and Britain that still needs
ratification, Orobator could be extradited to serve her time in Britain. Lao
officials, however, could still veto her return.
Orobator had been jailed since last August, but her plight drew public
attention only last month after the British legal charity Reprieve
publicized her circumstances and what they believed was the possibility she
could be executed by firing squad if found guilty.
The case attracted particular interest because Orobator became pregnant
while incarcerated. Lao officials have asserted that she may have
artificially inseminated herself while behind bars.
“We’re relieved that the trial has taken place. We’re hoping the British
government will get her home as soon as possible for the health of her and
her baby,” said Katherine O’Shea, a Reprieve spokeswoman.
Orobator arrived in court wearing a blue prison outfit and smiling to
reporters. She was escorted by female prison guards but was not in handcuffs
or ankle chains.
Her mother also attended the trial by a three-judge panel, as did several
British consular officials. Security around the courthouse was tight.
Her mother looked visibly distressed leaving court after the trial, but
Orobator appeared calm.
“We are seeking access to Samantha to discuss her future options,” said
Daniel Painter, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Thailand who attended
the trial. Britain does not maintain an embassy in Laos.
It is up to Orobator and her state-appointed lawyer to decide within 21 days
whether to appeal the sentence and whether to apply for repatriation.
Police said they found 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in 68 capsules on
Orobator’s body when she was arrested at Vientiane airport on her way to
Australia, though Reprieve said the drugs were found in her luggage.
After Reprieve voiced its concerns about the possibility of Orobator being
executed, the Lao government confirmed that under the country’s criminal
law, a pregnant woman cannot receive the death penalty.
However, officials delayed her scheduled trial date in May because of
questions about how she became pregnant.
According to Lao officials, Nigerian-born Orobator initially told
authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after
she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy. It was not until March 2 that
a hospital test showed she was pregnant, verified by a second test April 4,
police said. That meant she must have gotten pregnant while in prison, they
Orobator’s mother recently said her daughter had not been raped by prison
officials or fellow prisoners, as some media had speculated.
The Vientiane Times last Tuesday quoted police as saying Orobator told
authorities she secretly obtained sperm from a fellow prisoner to impregnate
herself to avoid the death penalty. The state-run newspaper did not name the
sources or give other details.
Orobator was in jail and so could not be reached to respond to the newspaper
Panda family may be able to stay in Chiang Mai after negotiations
The Minister for Natural Resources and the
Environment, Suwit Khunkitti,
is interviewed by reporters after his visit to see Lin Hui and her cub.
Suwit has given assurances that the length of time before the cub needs
to be sent to China can be extended by negotiation.
Story by Siriporn Raweekoon
Photo by Supoj Thaimyos
The Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, Suwit Khunkitti,
after paying his first visit to Lin Hui’s newborn panda cub at Chiang Mai
Zoo, gave assurances that the length of time before the cub need to be sent
to China will be able to be extended by negotiation.
The panda pair, Xuang Xuang and Lin Hui, are on loan from China for a period
of 10 years; as part of the agreement it was stated that any offspring
should be returned to China at the age of 2 years, to become part of that
country’s breeding programme. However, the newborn panda cub is considered
to be very important for Chiang Mai Zoo as a tourist attraction, and also in
the development of a panda breeding programme here in Thailand. Thai
officials will be sent to China to initiate negotiations which may result in
a longer stay for the panda family.
days after it was born at the Chiang Mai Zoo, Lin Hui’s offspring is already
trying to walk. The zoo has announced a naming contest for the as yet
unnamed cub (AP Photo/Chiang Mai Zoological Park, HO)
Members of the public who want to keep up with the baby panda’s development
will be able to watch her every move on Microsoft Net, and local people will
be able to watch live broadcasts on screens set up around Chiang Mai. The
baby is expected to begin to crawl at 1 month old.
Meanwhile, Chiang Mai Zoo has announced a naming contest for the as yet
unnamed panda cub, with a massive prize of 1 million baht, a car and a tour
package to be awarded to the winner. Anyone can enter—preference will be
given to Thai, Chinese and Kham Muang, (northern dialect), names—with
entries being sent by SMS to several Thai TV programmes, as well as by mail
to Thailand’s 5 zoos. The closing date for entries is June 12. The four
names selected by the judges will each win 10,000 baht and a 3 night Chiang
Mai tour package for 2 persons, including a visit to the panda family. The
general public will then be invited to choose between the 4 names and vote
by post. The final winner will receive 1 million baht, a car and tour
package for two persons, while the second and third runners up will win a
car and tour packages for two persons.
Chiang Rai rice farmers protest after crop
More than 200 Chiang Rai rice farmers blocked a main highway once again on
June 3, demanding that the government continue its rice support programme.
The protesting farmers blocked Phaholyothin highway in Phan district, a road
leading to Phayao, after learning that the government plans to use a price
guarantee programme instead of a pledging or mortgage scheme for major
crops, erecting tents and using loudspeakers. All traffic on the highway was
brought to a standstill.
The protesters demanded that provincial authorities locate silos to store
their crop at prices fixed by the government, with payment to be made within
three days, as approximately 250,000 tonnes of rice in Chiang Rai is now
awaiting harvesting. Continued blocking of the highway was threatened,
unless the government extends its rice mortgaging scheme or a better
solution is found.
In Bangkok, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told journalists that the quota
of the government-sponsored rice mortgage scheme is full, although rice in
some provinces has only just or is yet to be harvested, adding that the rice
policy committee has been assigned to determine if the quota should be
15-day tourist extension rules toughen up
According to the Thai Immigration Bureau, the rules for the 15-day
tourist extension have been tightened up, in order to prevent foreigners’
abuse of the previous ruling.
The new regulations were put in place without warning on June 1, and state
that any foreigner who has entered Thailand on 4 consecutive occasions using
the 15 day extension stamp will not now be allowed to leave and re-enter the
kingdom unless this is done via an international airport, in which case a
further 30 day stay will be allowed.
The new rules will not affect holders of visas issued abroad; foreigners at
present using the 15-day exemption method are advised to obtain Tourist or
Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visas from a Thai embassy or consulate outside the
country. Holders of Tourist visas will be given a 60 day stay; those with
Non-Immigrant visas will be allowed 90 days.
Aung San Suu Kyi trial adjourned until June 12
Following more worldwide protests and reports that Burmese legal
experts have responded to comments made by senior Junta members by stating
that the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is unfair and unfree, the trial itself
has been adjourned until June 12. The court, held in Rangoon’s notorious
Insein Prison, made the decision after the Rangoon divisional court accepted
a request by Suu Kyi’s lawyers that witnesses for the defence who had been
previously disqualified, including 2 journalists and a lawyer, should be
reinstated. The matter will now be decided in a meeting of lawyers from both
Previously, the Burmese deputy defence minister, Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, had
stated that, ‘If offenders are not prosecuted, anarchy will prevail, and
there will be breaches of the peace and of security’. Aung Thein, a
well-known Burmese lawyer, responded that, ‘Accusing Suu Kyi of being an
‘offender’ even before the decision of a judge is made, shows that Burmese
military leaders can influence Burmese laws and courts. Moreover, it is
clearly a violation of human rights. The statement shows that the Junta has
decided to put Suu Kyi in prison at all costs. To be a fair trial, this must
be open and offer a chance to defend freely. Suu Kyi’s trial is grossly
unfair because the sole defence witness is Kyi Win, (no relation to Suu
Kyi’s lawyer Kyi Win). It shows clearly that Burmese military leaders
influenced the judgment of the case. If the executive body were separated
from the judicial body, it could not influence the judicial body’.
Meanwhile, the Junta has issued instructions to all Burmese civil servants
that they should not criticise the Junta, nor should they enter into any
demonstrations held in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. Should they do so, they
will be punished or forced to resign. Education authorities have been
ordered to employ more security staff in their grounds. Department heads
have been told to inform students and employees that the Nobel Peace Prize
laureate is a puppet of Western nations and that the West will put more
pressure on Burma’s civil service if she is sentenced to jail. University
academics have been ordered to report to the authorities if any activists or
political campaign materials are found.
A number of south-east Asian politicians are pressing ASEAN to suspend
Burma’s membership if Suu Kyi is found guilty, and tough action is being
demanded. A Singaporean lawyer, Charles Chong, has stated that, ‘More and
more parliamentarians within ASEAN are beginning to lose their patience with
Burma. As a result, we are calling upon our governments to do more than just
express dismay, regret, grave concern and so on, and seriously look at
suspending Burma’s membership in Asean’.
Burmese state-run media is hinting at increased tension between the Junta
and Thailand following comments made at an informal meeting at the end of
May which was attended by Burmese deputy defence minister, Maj. Gen. Aye
Myint, who stated that, ‘Actually, it is Thailand that needs to forge
national reconciliation. Thailand saw year-long demonstrations in which
different groups in red, yellow and blue made an attempt to oust the
government and jeopardize the ASEAN Summit’.
Aung San Suu Kyi herself, speaking with her lawyer, is reported as saying
that, due to her having been charged under an annulled law, her charges are
invalid, adding that, ‘We are facing a crisis of constitution, not a
Possibly the most expensive mushrooms in the world
Forest products and the threat of fire in Northern Thailand
The pictures, with healthy forest seen above
and degraded forest seen right, illustrate the devastating consequences
of annual fires, used for the collection of forest products, in Thai
forests. Species-rich ecosystems become degraded and the development of
the forest stunted and void of life.
A study commissioned by the premier online eco retailer,
www.e-photoframes.co.uk, the full texts of which were recently published
in this newspaper, has found that the high market price of a particular
type of wild mushroom, hed thob, and its lucrative allure of potentially
doubling a farmer’s yearly income, is one of the main factors
underpinning the deliberate setting of forest fires. A phenomenon which,
due to the emission of large amounts of smoke containing carbon dioxide,
(CO2), is a killer of people and a destroyer of tourism. It is also one
of the most significant causes of climate change.
A dairy crop farmer from the north of Thailand, Khun Som, states that,
‘We normally use fire in the forest because, sometimes, it’s hard to
walk and find the things we want to collect. We do not hesitate to use
it to burn small areas. A fire that accidentally gets out of control can
sometimes happen, but such fires often extinguish themselves...’
Alex Putnam, the leader of the research project, states that, ‘The use
of fire during the dry season for the collection and propagation of
forest products, particularly mushrooms, is a tradition which has been
practiced for many decades, and which sustains the livelihoods of local
farmers in northern Thailand. However, due to annual burning, the
forests are becoming degraded and devoid of all life, and local urban
areas are being plunged into a haze of suffocating smog. The degradation
of dry forests, (dry diterocarp), in Northern Thailand, due to the use
of fire, is also limiting the capacity of the forests to naturally
sequester carbon dioxide emissions, therefore exacerbating the issue of
The aims and objectives of the study are to explore the causes and
effects of deliberate burning within the province of Chiang Mai,
Northern Thailand. In addition, the project also proposes solutions to
deal with the traditional practice of burning in the province, and sets
out a fire prevention plan for 2010 and beyond. The project uses both
quantitative, (fire data collection), and qualitative, (semi-structured
interviewing), research methods.
In total, during the two month study period, a total of 58 fires were
recorded, the majority of which, (36%), occurred within forests, open
areas, (19%), and along roadsides, (17.5%), whilst domestic, (15.5%),
and agricultural fires, (12% ), recorded the lowest percentage.
The final report will be available online at www.e-photoframes.co.uk
from the beginning of June 09. In order to take part in the online
discussion, please visit the blog, www.e-photoframes.co.uk/blog. For
further information, please contact Alex Putnam by email on
[email protected], or call on Thai +66 (0) 86-272-8546 or UK +
44 (0) 127-865-2401.
‘Chiang Mai Grand Sale’ officially opens at Three Kings Monument
The formalities are over and the fun begins
at the official opening of the Chiang Mai Grand Sale, held at the Thee
Kings’ Monument on May 31.
Lee Roy Webster
The official opening of the Chiang Mai Grand Sale city-wide tourism
promotion (reported in last week’s issue), took place Sunday 31 at the
Three Kings’ Monument, under lowering skies, with distant rumbles of
thunder. The initiative is a cooperative effort between the Chiang Mai
Chamber of Commerce, the Chiang Mai governor’s Public Relations Office,
the local Tourist Authority of Thailand, the chamber of culture and the
Chiang Mai Provincial Organisation, and is aimed at encouraging visitors
to the city through massive discounts on hotels, restaurants and visitor
attractions.300 local organisations at all levels are taking part in the
project; many of whom had set up booths to display their services and
products, prominently advertising the discounts available.
A little later than expected, the show began with dancers in traditional
costume, each representing a local traditional craft village and
displaying examples of their products to a large audience. Leaders of
the commercial and administrative community spoke briefly about the
programme, including Tarntip Thongngamkham, chief of the province’s
Public Relations office, Narong Kongprasert, president of Chiang Mai’s
Chamber of Commerce, and the deputy governor of Chiang Mai, Chuchad
Keelapaeng. Once the formalities were over, a traditional dance
performance delighted the audience and occasioned a great number of
Towards the end of the occasion, two huge trucks drew up, each
containing tons of lychees, all of which were to be given to local
communities as part of the opening ceremony. The occasion ended with an
unusual alternative to the traditional firework display… rockets were
sent up which, when they burst, showered the audience with thousands of
tiny, sparkling scraps of confetti. Immediately afterwards, the roiling
clouds opened, and the rain which had threatened to spoil the occasion
fell with a vengeance!
Dancers in traditional costumes, each
representing a local craft village,
display their products on stage.
Chiang Mai Charity Calendar a big success - despite the economic crisis
Despite the economic recession and increased production costs,
the 2009 Chiang Mai Charity Calendar raised a total of 423,000 baht for
rural children. The proceeds were presented to four different
organisations at a recent dinner held at the Amari Rincome Hotel and
attended by over 100 guests.
This small desk calendar is one of the city’s most successful projects,
not only raising funds for needy kids, but also playing a significant
role in promoting tourism. Its objectives are simple-to promote Chiang
Mai and Lanna in an enduring, unusual and attractive fashion; to raise
funds for rural children, and to involve local schoolchildren in a
creative, charitable and rewarding endeavour. This is achieved by
inviting students from different schools to paint pictures depicting
attractive aspects of Northern Thailand. Independent judges select the
best 14 which are then featured in the calendar, with promotional text
and photography added. The colourful and informative 40-page end product
showcases the destination year-round in an appealing, non-commercial
Artworks are provided free, and printing is given at cost. Ten thousand
calendars come off the press, weighing around three metric tons and, (as
the organisers found out to their horror), sufficient to fill an
averaged-sized sitting room! Total production expenses are approximately
500,000 baht. The calendar is privately funded, has no sponsors, carries
no advertising, and is sold for 100 baht to residents, tourists, travel
agencies, hotels and corporate companies. It can also be custom-made
with a company logo, greetings etc, on the front cover, or on both sides
of an extended 1-inch base. The total revenue, less the production
expenses, is donated in full towards the education of rural children.
The project is non-profit, supported by volunteers, and no party
receives any financial benefit.
The first 2008 calendar generated 604,000 baht; the project has thus now
raised over a million baht for rural children in two years; travelled to
offices and homes all over the world, and raised global awareness of
Chiang Mai in many different countries.
This is a major achievement for a product which is normally given away
free of charge, a credit to those who supported it, and a wonderful
example of what children can achieve with paintbrushes in a concept of
‘Children helping Children’.
During the evening at the Amari Rincome Hotel, cheques totalling 423,000
baht were presented to representatives of The Children’s Shelter Home in
Doi Saket, Croston House Children’s Home in Lamphun; the Khun Tha School
in Lampang, and Bann Nangplaman School in Mae Rim. The third 2010 Chiang
Mai Charity Calendar is going ahead, and should be ready in August,
2009, with the theme ‘Nature & Culture of Northern Thailand’. Advance
enquiries and orders are welcome.
Calendar organisers Ramlah Jafri and Basil McCall can be contacted at:
chiangmailcalendar @gmail.com or call on 089-851-8059. The 2010 web page
is under construction at http://chiangmaicalendar2010 .googlepages.com.
new street elephant law
A recent survey, which found almost 100 elephants on the streets
of Thailand’s capital city, has resulted in a much needed crackdown on
mahouts who bring the giant pachyderms into such unsuitable and harmful
Effective immediately, the new guidelines will result in the arrest and
recorded warning of anyone who brings an elephant into the city. After
three warnings, offenders will be fined up to 50,000 baht, and will have
their elephants sent back to their areas of origin. A further survey
will take place at the end of next month, during which the beasts’
Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) microchips will be checked.
Representatives from Chulalongkorn and Mahidol Universities will also
take samples in order to check by DNA testing whether any of the
elephants have been smuggled in from neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Ayutthaya’s Wang Chang elephant camp and Pattaya’s Suan Nong
Nooch have offered to buy elephants and hire their mahouts, while the
Elephant Reintroduction Foundation has said it will pay 500,000 to 1
million baht for any elephant whose mahout can not afford to keep it.
With the promotion of elephant welfare in mind, the BMA will host a
fundraising concert featuring famous performers, and the Ministry of
Natural Resources and the Environment are considering a new Elephant Act
as a long-term solution to the problem of street elephants.
Here in Chiang Mai, two elephants are missing after another died from
eating vegetables contaminated with pesticides. The two are believed to
have fallen sick from eating the same vegetables, and have reportedly
disappeared into deep forests.
Another elephant, in transit for work purposes, was severely injured
when a truck used to transport her crashed down an embankment. The
elephant’s front legs were broken and her head was injured in the fall.
She was left by the roadside in great pain until, 12 hours later,
veterinarians arrived, dispatched Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, who had
been told of the accident.
CMU’s new volunteer
No strings attached
If you’re already resident in Chiang Mai, or even planning to
come here and stay for a while, this might be just for you—an
opportunity to share your language or other skills with the Thai
community in return for the opportunity to live in such a fascinating
and cultural city. And, unlike several similar programmes recently
offered on local online forums by commercial language schools, you don’t
have to sign up for an expensive TEFL course to be able to qualify for
‘assistance’ in placing you as a volunteer!
This new volunteer programme is being offered by Chiang Mai University’s
Language Institute, and is open to qualified and non-qualified teachers
alike. Both are more than welcome, and the institute’s staff promise to
do their best to find suitable placements for all different skills.
Volunteers will need to commit to a minimum of 4 hours per week/16 hours
The programme is designed to be non-profit-making; volunteers will
therefore only be asked to cover the costs of arranging the volunteer
placement and the preparation of paperwork for a Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa,
which will be supported by the minimum 4 hours per week commitment. Of
course, volunteers can work as many more hours as they wish, and can
commit for as long as they wish, as their ‘O’ visa will be supported by
the institute for that length of time. More information on this aspect
of the programme is available on www.teflcmu .com/opportunities.php,
although at present only the education visa is mentioned. Participation
in the programme is free for local organisations.
CMU’s Language Institute has built an extensive network, allowing
qualified teachers to be placed at schools where they can teach their
own classes; non-qualified volunteers will be placed as assistant
teachers, or given a placement where they can use diverse skills such as
nursing, health care, teaching music, etc.
For more information on what seems like an excellent opportunity, please
email the Volunteer Programme’s manager, Carmen Rademaker, on