A Salvadoran court has acquitted Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez of an aggravated homicide conviction, a result of her having delivered a stillborn child in April 2016.
21-year-old Hernandez is a victim of rape and said she did not know she was pregnant and had lost consciousness during the birth. At the time, she was just 18-years-old. Prosecutors argued she had hidden her pregnancy and not sought antenatal care.
Hernandez had served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence when her homicide conviction was overturned earlier this year for lack of evidence and a retrial was ordered. During the retrial, prosecutors pushed for an extended 40-year sentence.
The retrial ordered in this case is a first for the socially conservative country El Salvador, where women who have miscarriages are often accused of murder by prosecutors. These women are often charged with aggravated homicide and face a sentence of 30 to 40 years.
El Salvador, a country with deep religious roots, has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.
“We believe the judge has been very fair in his ruling,” defence lawyer Bertha Maria Deleon said after the month-long retrial. “He has said that there was no way to prove a crime and for that reason he absolved her.”
“This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador,” said Amnesty International’s Americas director, Erika Guevara-Rosas.
“It reaffirms that no woman should be wrongly accused of homicide for the simple fact of suffering an obstetric emergency.”
Today is a day to celebrate. Evelyn Hernandez, a rape victim who suffered stillbirth and faced murder retrial, was declared innocent. This was the result of the tireless efforts of Evelyn and many other women’s human rights defenders #ElSalvador #JusticeForEvelyn pic.twitter.com/W4wYYm1OuW
— Erika Guevara-Rosas (@ErikaGuevaraR) August 19, 2019
Following Hernandez’s retrial, Amnesty International has called on El Salvador to “end the shameful and discriminatory practice of criminalizing women once and for all by immediately revoking the nation’s draconian anti-abortion laws.”