Salvadoran rape victim accused of attempted murder after giving birth to baby in latrine is freed from jail

Our Foreign Staff
Imelda Cortez spent more than 18 months in jail awaiting trial, a further ordeal after allegedly being repeatedly raped by her stepfather for seven years - AFP

A Salvadoran woman accused of the attempted murder of her newborn baby under the country's strict abortion laws after she was raped by her stepfather was freed by a court on Monday after more than 18 months in jail.

Imelda Cortez, 20, gave birth prematurely in a latrine in April 2017 and left the baby there. When Miss Cortez went to hospital to seek treatment for a haemorrhage, telling doctors she felt something come out of her while using the toilet, staff suspected she had tried to perform an abortion.

Acquitting her, the court determined that Miss Cortez, who had not known she was pregnant, did not try to kill her infant daughter. The child survived.

As she left court, Miss Cortez, who was arrested shortly after the birth, was greeted by cheering relatives and human rights activists holding signs demanding her freedom.

She had spent more than 18 months awaiting trial in what was seen as a landmark case by women's rights groups in El Salvador, which for the past two decades had had some of the most severe anti-abortion laws in the world.

Miss Cortez is embraced by her mother after her acquittal in what is seen as a landmark case in El Salvador, home to some of the world's strictest anti-abortion laws Credit: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

Abortion is completely banned even in cases of rape or when a mother's life is at risk. Women can face up to 40 years in prison, even for a miscarriage.

One of Miss Cortez's lawyers, Keyla Caceres, told AFP she was representative of "girls and young adolescents whose human rights are completely violated" by the country's unforgiving abortion laws.

Miss Cortez's stepfather, who allegedly raped her repeatedly over a seven-year period, has been arrested and is awaiting trial, Salvadoran prosecutors said.

Some 22 more women are serving sentences of up to 35 years for aggravated homicide linked to abortion, according to the Group for Decriminalising Abortion.

"This sentence ... represents hope for women who are still in prison and are also being tried for aggravated homicide," another of her defence lawyers, Ana Martinez, said.

President Salvador Sanchez Ceren in 2017 proposed a law to allow abortions in cases of rape or when the mother's life is at risk, but Congress did not pass it.