HAVANA, Cuba — A Cuban appeals court has overturned a prison sentence leveled against a pastor who was punished in May for homeschooling his children.
“This is a far better outcome than I had expected,” said Mike Donnelly of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in an update on Wednesday. “Based on my understanding of how Cuba treats its dissidents, I was increasingly certain that Ramón was going to lose and go to jail. I was delighted to hear that the Cuban appeals court refused to impose this manifestly unjust punishment.”
As previously reported, Ramón 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.
While the July 7 appeal overturned Rigal’s prison sentence, HSLDA notes that the ruling does not vacate the pastor’s conviction, nor does it eradicate the previous house arrest order against Adya Rigal.
Rigal said that no matter what, he will not send his children to public school.
“I will continue to fight and not give in to their impositions and I will not take the children to school,” Rigal he told the organization. “This fight must be continued until they let me educate my children quietly in my house or let me leave the country.”
“They want to impose their injustice and how to make an example out of me so that others do not follow my example of homeschooling. If I am not allowed to homeschool here in Cuba, I wish the authorities would let me leave the country to go somewhere that I may,” he stated.