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El Salvador woman freed after 30-year sentence for stillbirth

WOMEN’S rights campaigners celebrated after the release of a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after giving birth to a stillborn baby in a toilet.

Crowds cheered as Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was freed from prison having served three years of her sentence. A court ruled that she should be retried after an appeal and allowed her to live at home until her case is heard.

As she left the prison, campaigners gathered at the gates chanting: “Evelyn, you are not alone.”

Ms Hernandez has always denied knowing that she was pregnant, with she and her lawyers arguing that no crime had been committed after she gave birth to a baby boy in 2016. She collapsed soon after the birth due to the loss of lots of blood.

But prosecutors said Ms Hernandez was guilty of murder because she failed to seek antenatal care which they said could have saved her son’s life.

Ms Hernandez told a harrowing account of gang rape during the initial trial with her lawyers telling the court that she had been too afraid to report her ordeal to the police.

She was unaware that she was pregnant as she had bleeding which she attributed to her menstrual cycle.

El Salvador has some of the world’s strictest abortion laws with terminations banned in all circumstances. More than 20 women are believed to be behind bars, many charged with “aggravated homicide” after stillbirths or miscarriages.

In December 2018, rape survivor Imelda Cortez was released after she was accused of attempting to abort her abuser’s baby. The 20-year-old woman was arrested after giving birth to a baby girl in a toilet.

However she described suffering years of sexual abuse and rape from her 70-year-old stepfather and a DNA test proved he was the child’s father.

Ms Hernandez told the court: “I did not want to abort my son.” Much of the case focused on whether the baby died in the womb or shortly after birth but medics were unable to give a definitive answer. 

Pro-choice organisation Agrupacion Ciudadana welcomed Ms Hernandez’s release and said they hoped a new judge would consider that there was no scientific evidence to incriminate her.

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