December 14, 2017
Sunday, August 14, 2016

‘I did not commit a crime’

Marches calling for Belén’s release were held across the country on Friday.
Marches calling for Belén’s release were held across the country on Friday.
Marches calling for Belén’s release were held across the country on Friday.
By Ximena Schinca
Herald staff

Belén speaks to the Herald from prison in Tucumán about her ordeal after a miscarriage

“I heard that even Macri talked about my situation and considered it a delicate issue. I am feeling much calmer now for all the support received, but I was abandoned and desperate for quite a long time”, said Belén, jailed and convicted of homicide after a miscarriage, to the Herald.

The interview with the 27-year old woman took place at the provincial Feminine Prison Unit 4 of Tucumán, last week, just before the rally in Tucumán demanding for her liberation after more than 900 days in prison and shortly after the Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj had tried to meet with her in prison.

“I don’t want to receive anyone. I have turned into a distrustful person after all, but after thinking for a week, I decided to talk to a select group of people,” Belén said, with a twinge of sorrow in her eyes, claiming that her mistrust is based on the series of events resulting in her conviction earlier this year to eight years behind bars.

“It was in this same place where I broke down in tears because the judicial classification of my case was changed to doubly aggravated homicide”, she explained during the conversation in the office of the prison’s director.

Considered to have committed a “homicide” by the police and the provincial courts, Belén has now been held in jail for more than two years. Despite suffering an alleged miscarriage, she was first under pre-trial detention, found guilty of abortion and murder earlier this year. In what her current defence headed by the feminist lawyer Soledad Deza called “a bogus cas,”, Belén was given an eight-year sentence.

Moreover the judicial records said that a foetus was found in the toilet of the Avellaneda Hospital in the capital of Tucumán, an hour before Belén arrived with abdominal pains. Even if it was considered Belén’s “son,” no evidence or DNA test proved it. The foetus was lost during the investigative proceedings.

“I am not going to run away for a crime I did not commit. I have been already far from my family, but I have learnt to have my rights respected. At first, I couldn’s speak without crying. I was dying of pain as I was 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”, Belén stated in a long conversation.

A Kafkaesque miscarriage of justice

“Even the guards joke with me and said that there should not be another case like me in jail. I am the first and only one in the 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 breathlessly.

The woman blames her first official lawyer Norma Bulacio. “I wouldn’t be here with a proper defense. ‘Sole’ (Deza) is my fairy godmother. Everything changed since she became my lawyer. I am calm with my conscience now. If during the trial the truth did not come out, it is going to come to light now. I fervently hope that Sole will come one day to tell me that I am free again ”, the large-shiny-eyed young woman said, expressing her gratitude to the pro-choice activist who became her lawyer by chance, on April 19, after the conviction.

Belén’s case is not an exception in this province, said to the Herald lawyer Mariana Álvarez, a professor at University of Tucumán and a member of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH). “The violation of medical secrecy is a recurring practice in Tucumán regarding cases of suspected abortion”, Álvarez stressed.

Recently, the judicial perfomance of Judges Dante Ibáñez, Néstor Rafael Macoritto and Fabián Adolfo Fradejas was also challenged by the provincial prosecutor Edmundo Jiménez, who issued favorable opinions regarding Belén’s liberation and claiming there were serious flaws in the conviction. He also 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 be nullified.

“An irregular procedure was conducted in the hospital, which violated several rights of the victim, such as due process, legal defence, the right to not incriminate oneself, physician-patient privilege,” said the prosecutor. He accused the judges who sentenced “Belén” of basing their ruling on prejudices and was critical of the performance of Avellaneda hospital’s medical staff. “They submitted her to cruel treatment such as looking at the dead foetus,” he said.

“I felt very moved when I read the prosecutor’s opinion. I am feeling confident that I will be free soon. I still feel fear when I visit a doctor. I received a letter from a woman saying that she is afraid of going to the hospital, so I want to be free and make public who I really am. But I don’t want to damage my family, so I will keep my identity in secret”, she said to the Herald.

No country for poor girls

Tucumán is the only province that isn’t part of the Sexual and Reproductive health programme. It doesn’t have any protocols for legal abortions either, but 605 cases regarding pregnancy interruptions were opened between 1992-2012 and 95 percent of them involved women.

“This is a pattern expressing a pact between the medical and judicial staff to criminalize women for interruption of pregnancy,” Álvarez, co-author of the research regarding sexual rights in Tucumán, told the Herald. “It is dangerous to be woman in Tucumán if you are poor”, she stated.

A handful of people were in court on the sentencing day. One of them was Mara Mohedano, head of the Perinatal Department of the Avellaneda Hospital until 2012, where Belén arrived with kidney problems on March 21, 2014, and discovered she was having a miscarriage which was later defined as a “homicide” by the medical and police staff.

“There are members of the medical staff rather shaken by Belén’s case. The staff must revise what happened that dawn at their hospital”, doctor Mohedano told this newspaper. “There are actions of people with certain moral or pseudo moral that leadto violating women’s rights, but it is not all the medical staff of the hospital”, Mohedano explained.

Alejandra del Castillo, member of the roundtable for Belén’s and organizer of Friday’s national demonstration, stated that “there is an imposed regimentation of the medical personnel so as to indoctrinate women seeking post-abortation care.”

“We’re dealing with a major violation of her privacy and autonomy. The medical staff (have violated) medical secrecy regulations by revealing information they noted down while working as Belén’s doctors (and) by giving her clinical records to the police”, Belén’s lawyer Deza told the Herald.

A national call for Belén

“When I watched on TV that there were so many people asking for me, I felt really thankful,” Belén said regarding this year’s #NiUnaMenos demonstration which also included a demand her urgent release.

A roundtable for “Belén’s” freedom, which groups together 40 social organizations, unions, feminists and politicians, called for Friday’s national rally in over 30 squares around the country.

“We are not going to stop until Belén’s release. We are all Belén because our right to health, justice and care is also violated,”, said Celeste Mac Dougall, a pro-choice activist and campaigner for Belén.

“Everybody is worried about me in the prison because I am famous now. I am in the political section now,” Belén joked while showing some pieces on the local newpaper about her case. “Belén is going to continue until all women’s rights are respected, but I want to go home and continue with my normal life. When I leave this prison, I am going to wear something to avoid being recognized,” she concluded.


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