As It Happens

'We're going to fight': El Salvador teen rape victim to appeal 30-year sentence for stillbirth

A 19-year-old woman who says she had a stillbirth after she was raped will fight a court ruling that sentenced her to 30 years behind bars for aggravated homicide.
Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was sentenced on Friday to 30 years for aggravated homicide after she says was raped, became pregnant and miscarried. (Twitter)

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A network of activists in El Salvador say they won't stop fighting for Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, a young woman who was handed a 30-year prison sentence last week for aggravated homicide after she gave birth to a stillborn baby.

"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 told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

Garcia — a member of the Colectiva Feminista and Citizens Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador — was in the courtroom with Hernandez's mother when the 19-year-old 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 was convicted of aggravated homicide under El Salvador's hardline anti-abortion laws after she suffered a third-trimester stillbirth in a bathroom in April 2016. 

The judge accepted the prosecution's argument that her failure to seek medical attention before or during childbirth was tantamount to murder. 

But Hernandez maintains she didn't know she was pregnant at the time.

In the months before, she said, she'd been repeatedly raped by a gang member in the small community where she lived. She said she did not report the attacks out of fear — of both gang violence and the criminal justice system.

"The judge did not believe what Evelyn said — did not believe that she did not know she was pregnant," Garcia said.

Hernandez is one of dozens of women who have been jailed in El Salvador after suffering from complications during childbirth. Garcia said she knows of at least 20 such cases.

Miscarriages and stillbirths in El Salvador are often treated as suspected abortions, which have been considered murder under Salvadoran law since 1997.

Even if a baby survives childbirth complications, the mother can be charged with attempted murder.

Garcia said Hernandez's supporters will keep fighting for her and for all women in her situation.

"We really want to change this reality of injustice in El Salvador," she said.

An activist holds a sign reading 'Legal Abortion' on International Women's Day in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 8, 2017. (Jose Cabezas/Reuters)

With files from The Associated Press