El Salvador: Evelyn Hernández cleared over baby’s death

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A 21-year-old woman in El Salvador whose baby was found dead in the toilet where she gave birth has been cleared of murder during a retrial. 

Evelyn Hernández had always maintained she was innocent, saying that she did not know she was pregnant and lost consciousness during the birth.

Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of 40 years.

Her case has been closely watched in El Salvador and abroad with women’s rights activists calling for her acquittal.

El Salvador has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances and those found guilty face between two and eight years in jail.

But in many cases, including the one against Ms Hernández, the charge is changed to one of aggravated homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years.

“Thank God, justice has been done,” she said as she stood on the steps outside the court house, free after 33 “hard” months behind bars. “My future is to continue studying and to move forward with my goals. I am happy,” she said, according to AFP news agency.

“I am about to explode with happiness,” her defence lawyer, Bertha Maria Deleon, tweeted.

However, she added, the fight was not over: Ms Hernández’s case was the first of its kind in El Salvador in which a full retrial had been ordered. 

Previously, women accused of aborting their babies had had their sentences commuted after their 30-year jail terms were deemed “disproportionate and immoral”, but their verdicts were not overturned.

Now women’s rights activists hope the retrial will set a precedent allowing other women jailed under El Salvador’s strict anti-abortion laws to fight their sentences. 

“We can and we will continue fighting because there are still are women accused who need justice urgently,” Ms Deleon tweeted.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has in the past called on El Salvador to reform its “draconian” abortion laws.

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