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Woman acquitted over baby’s murder in landmark Al Salvador case

In a landmark trial, an Al Salvadorian woman was cleared of charges to murder his baby. The 21-year-old woman’s baby was found dead in the toilet where she gave birth.

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.

“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.

Amnesty International described the verdict as a “resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador” and called on the government to “end the shameful and discriminatory practice of criminalising women”.

Evelyn Hernández said she experienced severe stomach pains and bleeding while at her home in rural El Salvador on 6 April 2016.

She went to the toilet, located in an outhouse, where she fainted. Her mother took her to a hospital, where doctors found she had given birth.

She was arrested after the body of her baby was found in the toilet’s septic tank.

Ms Hernández, who was 18 at the time, said she had been raped by a gang member but that she had no idea that she was pregnant.

She said she had confused the symptoms of pregnancy with stomach ache because she had experienced intermittent bleeding, which she thought was her menstrual period.

“If I’d known I was pregnant I would have awaited [the birth] with pride and joy,” she said in the past.

She also said that while she had “felt something come loose” inside her, she did not hear a baby cry out and did not realise she was giving birth.

She was initially accused of abortion but the charge was changed to one of aggravated homicide with prosecutors arguing she had hidden her pregnancy and not sought antenatal care.

In July 2017, the judge ruled that Ms Hernández knew she was pregnant and found her guilty. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison of which she has already served 33 months.