Washington DC – Four activists were arrested this morning at the Embassy of El Salvador where they staged a sit- in to call attention to 17 Salvadoran women currently serving extreme prison sentences for having had miscarriages. Protesters included Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of Latin America solidarity organization School of the Americas Watch; Ed Kinane, of Syracuse, NY, retired educator and nonviolent peace activist; John Honeck, a counselor and activist from Hamlin, NY; and Paki Wieland, of Northampton, MA, longtime peace and justice activist and member of Grandmothers for Peace. The group delivered a letter to the embassy to express their solidarity and to seek the release of the 17 women. Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse, NY, and Palma Ryan of Cliff Island, ME, also participated in the sit-in.
“The 17,” as they are now known in the global movement advocating their release, are 17 women in El Salvador serving decades in prison for having had miscarriages. A country with deeply conservative abortion laws, El Salvador has convicted these 17 and charged as many as five more. According to Amnesty International, the charges are for aggravated homicide and receiving illegal abortions, though there is little to no evidence as to the causes of their miscarriages. Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana made international headlines last month as the first of the 17 to be released. (El Salvador and ‘Las 17‘, New York Times).
Mirian, Martiza, Marina, Salvadora, Ena,Teodora, Guadalupe, Mariana, Mirna, Cinthia, Verónica, Alba, Johana, Evelyn, Teresa, and María make up the remainder of The 17. Many are mothers of young children, and all have many more years to serve under their current sentences.
“This is a grave injustice. Where there is injustice, silence is complicity,” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “For that reason, we are at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC, to express our solidarity with these women.” The group invited the embassy staff to join the call for the release of the 17 women.
The extreme abortion laws in El Salvador were passed under the ultra-right wing Arena government in 1997. Embassy staff were concerned about the issues raised and informed protesters that the Supreme Court has the authority to review these cases.
Some of protesters were part of a recent US Human Rights Delegation to El Salvador that visited five of the women in prison who are serving 30-year sentences for having a miscarriage. They have 22 more years to go before they are released.