El Salvador to appeal against verdict that cleared mother of baby's death

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Hernández was acquitted in August after a retrial

Prosecutors in El Salvador are appealing against a retrial verdict that cleared a young woman of murdering her newborn child.

Evelyn Hernández, 21, was acquitted last month in a case which gained international attention.

Her baby was found dead in a toilet in 2016 after she fainted. But she said she had been raped by a gang member and had not known she was pregnant

Prosecutors will now make a fresh bid to send her back to jail.

The attorney general's office said there was "overabundant and unambiguous evidence about the criminal responsibility" of Ms Hernández in her son's death.

But her lawyer, Bertha María Deleón, said: "It is shameful that they insist on criminally prosecuting a woman without evidence that she committed the crime."

Ms Hernández was initially sentenced in 2017 to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide, before the Supreme Court annulled the conviction and freed her in February this year, citing a lack of evidence. It ordered a retrial with a new judge, who delivered the verdict in August.

The treatment of Ms Hernández prompted an outcry from human rights and women's groups in the region and around the world. El Salvador has some of the world's strictest abortion laws.

Amnesty described last month's 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".

But in its statement announcing the appeal, the attorney general's office declared was "no reason to consider her a victim of anything. On the contrary, the only victim is her son".

Ms Hernández had gone to the outhouse toilet at her home in rural El Salvador on 6 April 2016 with stomach pains and bleeding when she fainted.

Her mother took her to the hospital, where doctors told her she had given birth. She was 18 at time and said she had not known that she was pregnant.

Media caption,
Evelyn Hernández spoke to the BBC in 2018

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

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.

After the initial conviction, her lawyers bid for a re-trial by arguing that forensic tests showed the baby had died of natural causes and may have been stillborn.

Ms Hernández is yet to issue a statement on the prosecutors' decision.

Media caption,
Evelyn Hernández thanked her mother after being cleared

In August, as she stood on the steps of the courthouse after her acquittal, she said: "Thank God, justice has been done.

"My future is to continue studying and to move forward with my goals. I am happy."