A woman participates in a demonstration on the day of safe abortion, on September 28, 2020. JOSE CABEZAS (Reuters)
Bertha Arana was imprisoned at the age of 18 for having suffered an obstetric emergency during pregnancy.
She went in 2012, in a small village in El Salvador, bordering Guatemala.
The young woman arrived at a health post bleeding and, although the girl was saved, the authorities, who had been notified of her case by the health workers as required by law, determined that Bertha "did not do enough" to express that she wanted to safeguard the life of the baby I was expecting.
Then, her nightmare became more acute, because to the pain of the emergency was added the weight of a Penal Code that totally prohibits abortion and some justice officials, prosecutors and judges, diligent in issuing convictions against Salvadoran women. accused of having an abortion.
Bertha was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“It is an absurd case.
Bertha is now 28 years old.
She has spent ten in prison and her case is still shelved by the Salvadoran state bureaucracy.
She does not know her daughter, because her father took her to Guatemala.
The feminist groups that fight to free women imprisoned for suffering miscarriages have run into a legal wall in this case that also seems irrational: the young woman was born in Guatemala, near the border of El Salvador, of a Salvadoran mother, but You do not have a document that proves your nationality.
"Her nightmare of hers does not end with arbitrary detention," explains Morena Herrera.
“We have been looking for all the prison benefit alternatives, some figures that help mitigate the sentence, but the prison system of El Salvador does not recognize any right because she does not have the unique Salvadoran identity document,”
"She is a young daughter of the border and the borders in our Central American countries have miserable conditions," says Herrera, to imply that the path to free Bertha will still be full of obstacles.
In El Salvador, between 2000 and 2014, at least 49 women have been convicted of crimes related to the criminalization of abortion and the authorities have denounced another 250 women for having an abortion.
Sentences of up to 30 years for spontaneous abortions
Feminist groups have made progress against an obtuse system, including the release of 64 women who had been convicted of experiencing emergencies during their pregnancies, which ended with the involuntary loss of the fetus.
One of the best known cases is that of Evelyn Hernández, who in 2016 was arrested after suffering an out-of-hospital delivery in the latrine of her house.
The baby died.
She didn't even know that she was pregnant.
She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder, but she was acquitted in 2020 after several years of international pressure.
Salvadoran feminist Morena Herrera.Kasia Strek
Setbacks have also accompanied them, as happened this Monday, when a judge sentenced another young woman, Esme, to 30 years in prison for having suffered a miscarriage.
The woman had a health emergency during her pregnancy and, according to organizations that defend the right to abortion in the Central American country, she did not receive timely medical attention, but was accused of having an immediate abortion by the Prosecutor's Office and kept for two years in prison. preventive during the judicial process and away from her 7-year-old daughter.
It is the first conviction of this type that has been recorded in seven years in El Salvador and also the first during the Government of Nayib Bukele, who has slammed the door on the struggle of women to achieve the legalization of abortion.
“It's a blow,” says Herrera, “because we have considered getting all the women out of jail.
We thought we were in the final stretch.
We have analyzed case by case, we identified different routes for each case and we considered the effort to get them out and we only had four [women imprisoned] left, ”she explains.
The group to which Herrera belongs has clung to a resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) that urges the Salvadoran State not to criminalize obstetric emergencies.
“It allows to avoid complaints in hospitals and we think that it is possible that in El Salvador it closes that part.
We know that we do not do it without opposition, because in the country and in Central America there are wills that want the region to continue in the most backward positions, that women's rights are not recognized, "explains the activist.
And more so in El Salvador, a conservative enclave, where neither the government led by the controversial President Bukele, nor the legislative system are willing to analyze a reform of the Penal Code.
“But we believe that with the hand of international solidarity,
The fight for Bertha
The women who support Bertha have mobilized to fulfill all the requirements of the system, which includes traveling to the border town where she was born.
But it seems that her misfortune haunts her.
"We went to Guatemala and found that the mayor's office where this girl was based was burned several years ago, so there is no place to ask for the birth certificate to carry out the regulation process," says Herrera.
“It is all very absurd, because to convict her they did not require identity documents, but now to give her freedom or to seek extenuating circumstances, that right is not recognized because they do not have any documents,” protests the feminist.
Herrera and her companions have not given up their efforts to obtain Bertha's release.
They have contacted her mother, who does have an identity document, and a lawyer who helps them dive into the deep waters of the Guatemalan bureaucracy to find the papers that prove the young woman's citizenship.
In the process, at least, they have had some triumphs.
“We have been looking for alternatives to alert about what has happened with Bertha.
Even her case was already analyzed by the United Nations arbitrary detention working group and they have clearly described her situation as an arbitrary detention.
We keep working, because we have to reverse that conviction, ”she says.
In prison, Bertha works several hours a day in the hope that this work will be taken into account by the prison authorities so that her sentence is reduced or she is released.
"My daughter is alive and I am sentenced for 15 years," her mother laments in a short audio that has been released by her defenders.
"Don't think that she has finished everything, I ask you to move on," she encourages them.
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