WASHINGTON D.C. — Four activists were arrested Friday at El Salvador’s embassy in Washington as they protested against prison sentences handed down to Salvadoran women for having allegedly undergone an abortion.
Amnesty International has been campaigning on behalf of 17 Salvadoran women who have been sentenced to prison for murder in pregnancy-related cases.
In January, one of the women, Guadalupe Vásquez, was pardoned. Pardon applications are pending for the other women.
“Never before have we met such a grave injustice,” protestor Roy Bourgeois said as he held a banner reading “A miscarriage is not a crime.”
Bourgeois, a former Catholic priest, said the group had previously accompanied a delegation to El Salvador to meet with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and five of the women prisoners.
“We are here to speak for the women and to call for their release,” he said.
Sitting or lying in silence, six protesters — three men and three woman — held placards that read “Free Las 17” and “Silence is consent.”
Embassy staff asked them to leave, an official told AFP, but protesters said they expected to be arrested for seeking to tell the story of the Salvadoran women.
After an hour, the U.S. Secret Service arrested four of them for “unlawful entry” to a diplomatic mission.
Besides presidential security, the Secret Service is also responsible for protecting foreign embassies in the U.S. capital.
Salvadoran law provides for a sentence of two to eight years in prison for induced abortion. But if a spontaneous abortion is considered to be self-induced, the woman can be prosecuted for murder and face a sentence of up to 50 years in prison.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas delivered to Sánchez Cerén a petition with more than 300,000 signatures asking him to repeal the abortion ban.
“This cruel and discriminatory ban has no place in modern society, where women and girls should have control over their reproductive and health decisions,” Guevara-Rosas said in a statement.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is legal without restrictions in Cuba, French Guiana, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Mexico City and Uruguay.
Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname ban abortion.