HAVANA — A pastor in Cuba who has spent a year incarcerated and in labor camps for homeschooling his children has been released on probation, a U.S.-based homeschooling organization reports.
“[T]hank you and all of you who have been praying for us and who supported us. Your prayers were answered, because I am with my family again,” Ramón Rigal wrote this week to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
As previously reported, Rigal and his wife Adya were arrested in 2017 after authorities realized their children were not attending school. They had 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.”
Rigal was sentenced to one year in prison and his wife was ordered to be placed under house arrest. His sentence was later commuted to hard labor, but when several others in Cuba began homeschooling their children as well, Rigal and his wife were arrested, put on trial and sentenced to 3.5 years and 18 months, respectively.
Adya was released from prison in April.
Rigal said last year that he was told he was not welcome in Cuba, being seen as a homeschool rebel and “ringleader,” but when he attempted to leave with his family, he was given a stipulation that he could not accept.
“They told me that before I leave, I have to condemn the other families who are homeschooling their children and to tell them to stop and put their children in school,” Rigal explained to HSLDA. “This I cannot do.”
Rigal and others chose to homeschool their children as they did not want them brought up in the prevalent atheist communist ideology. He enrolled them in a distance learning program presented by a Christian school in Guatemala.
“All of us at HSLDA rejoice that the Rigals are reunited. They should never have been separated,” said HSLDA Senior Counsel Mike Donnelly in a blog post on Wednesday. “Cuba’s government violated their human rights to due process and the direction of their children’s education.”
“Cuba should permit all families to homeschool freely without fear of retribution — by incarceration or other heavy-handed treatment,” he said. “The right of families to choose how their children are educated is a fundamental right that all governments must respect and protect.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also released a statement expressing relief over Rigal’s release.
“While we welcome the release of Pastor Rigal and are thrilled that he is reunited with his family, this was not the first time that Pastor Rigal and his wife were arrested in relation to their religious beliefs,” remarked Commissioner James Carr. “The Cuban government must immediately cease harassing this couple and allow all Cuban parents, including the Rigals, to raise their children pursuant to their own faith.”
Carr also called for the release of journalist Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, who remains in prison on a charge of “disobedience” for attempting to cover Rigal’s trial.
Rigal says he is thankful for those who prayed for him and his family, telling the Cuban Missionary Church, “It is beautiful to see how, although they do not know me personally, they have cared for me and my family, putting into practice the passage: ‘Remember the prisoners as if you were prisoners together with them.'”