The case of Belén puts on the table once again the issue of legal and safe abortion for women in Argentina, a topic that the government and the most conservative sectors of society want to silence. The struggle continues to absolve Belén and to achieve legalization of abortion to prevent more murders of women in the country.
Source: Buenos Aires Herald / The Dawn News/ August 16, 2016. After being held in prison for more than two years in connection with her controversial conviction for homicide, Tucumán’s provincial Supreme Court has ordered the release of “Belén,” a woman accused of having an illegal abortion, from jail.
In a victory for human rights organizations and feminist groups that have been mobilizing for her freedom for months, Justices Antonio Gandur, Antonio Estofán and Daniel Posse ordered Criminal Courthouse No. 3 to carry out the procedures necessary to release Belén’s immediately while the court hears an appeal against her conviction. She claims she had suffered a miscarriage. “Her release from prison is a victory for the tenacious fight carried out by the women’s movement and the roundtable for Belén’s freedom”, said Alejandra del Castillo.
The move comes a week after protests in support of Belén were held across at least 30 cities in the country and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez brought the case to the national Congress demanding that the Argentine state intervene. Last month, the judicial actions of Judges Dante Ibáñez, Néstor Rafael Macoritto and Fabián Adolfo Fradejas were challenged by the provincial prosecutor Edmundo Jiménez, who claimed there were serious flaws in her conviction. Jiménez had recommended the province’s Supreme Court accept an appeal by the defendant, stating that Belén’s sentence and the ruling against her was “arbitrary” and should therefore be nullified.
Belén, a pseudonym given to 27-year-old defendant to preserve her identity, was sentenced to eight years in prison for aggravated homicide last April after judicial authorities had convicted her for allegedly murdering her baby in the Avellaneda hospital in Tucumán. She was accused of discarding her fetus in a toilet. The defendant argued that she had suffered a miscarriage. After Belén was given an eight-year prison sentence, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have consistently advocated for her release.
“I am the first and only one in prison for a miscarriage. I was not able to read the judicial file for over two years. When I read it, I wanted to die. I am not what it reads. I am not a mata hijo (baby killer),” Belén said. Tucumán is the only province in the country that has not signed on to the Sexual and Reproductive health programme. It does not provide any protocol for legal abortions. In a previous interview with the Herald, Belén’s lawyer, Soledad Deza, criticized the charges against her, calling it “a bogus case”. Judicial authorities convicted Belén even though the prosecution was unable to provide evidence that the foetus discovered in the Avellaneda hospital belonged to her.
Despite this, the judges had placed Belén under pre-trial detention on the grounds that she posed a flight risk. Belén told the Herald that she wouldn’t flee if she were to be released, because she wanted to stand up for her rights so that the same thing wouldn’t happen to other women. “I am not going to run away for a crime I did not commit. I have been already been far from my family, but I have learnt to have my rights respected. At first, I couldn’t speak without crying. I was dying of pain as I was so far from home, but I have learnt to stand up for my rights and I am going to continue. I want to avoid the same thing happening to other women”, she explained. Last night, the CELS rights organization noted that what happened to Belén is one example of the dozens of human rights violations suffered by women who don’t have fair access to healthcare or the judicial system. CELS called on the Tucumán court not to delay in resolving the case, and that it issue a ruling so a precedent can be set to prevent similar rights violations happening in the future. Sources close to Belén demanded her privacy be respected as she needs to get her life back after two years and over four months of arrest.