HAVANA, Cuba — A Cuban pastor has been sentenced to one year in prison for homeschooling his children, and his wife has been ordered to spend a year under house arrest.
“This is a great injustice,” Ramón Rigal told the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). “They are trying to force us to send our children only to state schools—not having the option for the children to be taught at home. They should respect the right that parents have based on the human right to teach their children and to respect their faith and the right to homeschool.”
Rigal said that he was not allowed to testify at his trial last month and was prohibited from presenting supportive witnesses.
“They would not let me speak in my defense,” he outlined. “I brought evidence that my children were learning—notebooks and materials—[but] they didn’t care.”
Prosecutors argued that homeschooling is illegal in Cuba “because it has a capitalist foundation.”
As previously reported, Rigal and his wife Adya were taken into custody in February after authorities realized their children were not attending school.
The Rigals had chosen to homeschool as they “wanted the freedom to give our children the education that we, the parents, have chosen.” Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have the right to provide their children the education of their choosing.
However, the Cuban government “wanted to impose their position upon us and gave us a warning notice and told us they would take us before the courts because of our position on homeschooling,” Rigal said.
“I visited authorities several times to find a peaceable solution to my problem,” he explained. “I brought up the possibility of homeschooling under their supervision. I was told that if I did, my wife and I would be imprisoned and our children sent away.”
Last year, the couple received a letter from the Municipal Office of Education, which advised that “in our system, homeschooling is not considered an educational institution, as this term is basically used in countries with capitalist foundations.” It also warned that Cuban criminal code penalizes those who lead a child to be “absent from school.”
On Feb. 21, officers arrived at the Rigals’ home to take them to the police station. The couple begged the police not to arrest them in front of their children and said that they would go to the station themselves later.
When they arrived, they were arrested and charged with “acting contrary to the normal development of a minor.”
The couple was put on trial, and on April 25, Rigal was sentenced to one year in prison and his wife was ordered to be placed under house arrest.
“We are only trying to do what is best for our children,” Adya Rigal stated. “I do not want to be separated from my husband. Our children need him. Our church needs our pastor. My children are very sad and worried.”
On Wednesday, HSLDA held a rally at the Cuban embassy in Washington to protest the country’s treatment of homeschooling families. The gathering included speakers from the Hispanic Leadership Fund, Concerned Women for America, and CitizenGo.
“Americans care about what happens to people in Cuba,” said Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s Director of Global Outreach. “If Cuba is going to have normal relations with the United States, then the Cuban government should know that homeschooling is an option that must be allowed.”
The group attempted to deliver its 30,000-signature petition to embassy officials, but it was refused.