Activists in El Salvador say they won’t stop fighting for Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, a teenage rape victim who has been sentenced to 30 years for murder after she reportedly had a stillbirth.
"That is an injustice and we're going to fight. We're going to appeal the case and also we are going to fight until the end," Sara Garcia, member of the Colectiva Feminista and Citizens Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in an interview.
Hernandez, 19, from a small rural community in Cuscatlan, eastern El Salvador, was convicted of "aggravated homicide" last week. Garcia was in the courtroom with Hernandez's mother when she was sentenced.
"She was really sad and she broke into sobs in that moment.… She had a hope that that day she was going to be released and that didn't happen," Garcia said. "Her mother was really, really sad, upset. She was saying, 'They are lying. My daughter is innocent.'"
Hernandez said she did not know she was pregnant when she suffered a third-trimester stillbirth in a bathroom in April 2016.
She was allegedly raped by a gang member repeatedly over several months before going into labor.
Medical experts were unable to ascertain whether the fetus died in utero or in the moments after delivery, but the female judge accepted the prosecutor’s claims that Hernandez failed to seek antenatal care before or during childbirth, which was tantamount to murder under El Salvadorean law.
“It was a really disappointing trial, in the first place, because Evelyn was judged on the basis of prejudice,” Garcia said.
“The judge did not believe what Evelyn say. Did not believe that she didn't know she was pregnant.”
El Salvador’s abortion law was implemented in 1998 after a campaign by a small group of powerful anti-abortion groups linked to the Catholic church.
Under the legislation, abortion is illegal under any circumstances, even in cases of rape, when a foetus has been injured or when the mother’s life is in danger.
According to the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, 129 women were convicted of abortion-related crimes between 2000 and 2011 in El Salvador.
Since 2015, 26 women have been facing charges of murder.
“I think we keep fighting because we believe that she's innocent. And also the solidarity and national internationals will be guarded,” Garcia said. “That's a hope that we have. The solidarity and also that we're really going to change the reality of injustice in El Salvador.”